The Bureau of Environmental Health suspended yesterday the operation of Happiness Chinese Restaurant in Garapan after it was found in violation of sanitary regulations, not because of a video that claimed that the establishment was serving cat meat.
A video and photos posted on Facebook went viral yesterday, allegedly showing a person butchering an animal that turned out to be a cat at the back of the restaurant.
Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. public information officer Sam Birmingham-Babauta told Saipan Tribune that BEH officials inspected the restaurant in the afternoon and confirmed that it was a cat that was being butchered at the back alley of the restaurant by one of their kitchen workers Monday night. The kitchen worker turned out to be a cook at Happiness.
The cook, however, said the cat that he took home was for his own consumption. His living quarters are at the upper level of the building.
“The health inspectors did not find any cat remains or cat meat within the restaurant. However, the establishment was issued a suspension of operations for other unsanitary practices,” the BEH statement said.
Health inspectors found out that the restaurants’ food and drinks were stacked on the floor, their meat storage had poor temperature control, there was roach infestation, and an unclean kitchen, kitchen equipment, floor, and bathroom.
BEH slapped Happiness with a $4,000 fine for the various health violations.
Compliance with BEH regulations
Senate Health and Welfare Committee chair Sen. Teresita Santos (R-Rota) told Saipan Tribune that Happiness must comply with health regulations. “Even if it’s for an employees’ consumption, the fact remains that the restaurant must be in compliance with BEH regulations.”
“The employee should cook food at home and not at the establishment where it is regulated by laws and regulations. Contamination of any sort spreads fast [and] may cause health issues to their customers.”
She added that BEH was just doing its job of implementing health regulations in establishments that serve or handle food. “BEH conducted a thorough and periodic inspection of the restaurant. In doing so, it ensures that the customers are protected from any unsanitary or unclean food. Those found in violation of BEH regulations should be penalized to the fullest extent, including revocation of their business license,” Santos said.
No animal cruelty laws
Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) echoed the need for the CNMI to have animal cruelty laws to protect cats and dogs that are house pets. He has re-introduced House Bill 20-24 or the Animal Protection Act, to make illegal the cruel treatment of animals, like cats and dogs, and theft, while providing penalties for such actions.
He told Saipan Tribune, in a telephone interview, that the CNMI is the only place in the United States that has no animal protection laws. “In every other state and territory, there are animal cruelty laws in place.”
“That’s why we need this animal protection act. In our society, cats and dogs are considered pets and are not for consumption,” said Propst.
He said that H.B. 20-24 unanimously passed the House and is just awaiting Senate action. “I’m hoping they [Senate] would pass it and we’re waiting for it. Senate President [Arnold I.] Palacios said that he supports the bill.”
“I’m hoping we could act now and have an animal cruelty law in place soon. I hope we can finally have a public law that’s against the cruel treatment of animals.”
He pointed out that Public Law 11-40 only makes illegal the sale—not personal consumption—of food that contains wholly or in part cat or dog meat. “It is legal in the CNMI to slaughter and consume cats and dogs for personal consumption, so long as it is not sold for consumption.”
“Based on [P.L. 11-40], restaurants cannot serve cat or dog meat. In the case of Happiness Restaurant, the cook was slaughtering a cat for personal consumption. The restaurant was shut down for unsanitary kitchen conditions,” Propst said.
Saipan Cares for Animals director Beth Pliscou, in a separate interview with Saipan Tribune, said that what the kitchen worker did was a horrible and inhumane act. “We don’t eat cat or dog meat here in our community.”
“Even if it’s a stray, these are domesticated animals. They are house pets. This is horrible. That’s why we need to finally have an animal cruelty law for the protection of…cats and dogs,” she said.
Despite the kitchen worker’s claim that the cat he butchered was for personal consumption, Pliscou pointed out that the incident happened at the back of the restaurant. “It makes us wonder what kind of food are being served to the public. It is important that the public know that what they are eating is not cat or dog meat, or the food was prepared in a place that complied with sanitary regulations,” said Pliscou.