In response to an on-line petition that collected 11 million signatures, Yulin, China’s new secretary, Mo Gong Ming, has banned the sale of dog meat beginning one week before the start of the widely condemned Yulin Festival on June 21st. Since 2009, thousand of dogs have been rounded up, bludgeoned to death and then eaten to mark the summer solstice.
Animal advocates worldwide are hailing the move. But will the temporary “ban” on dog meat have any real bite? Tradition, lack of oversight and the promise of economic stimulus may prove to be formidable opponents to a durable ban on the dog meat trade in China.
While the Yulin festival is a recent concoction of dog meat traders, the consumption of dog meat has been a staple of Asian diets for anywhere from several hundred to a couple thousand years. Dogs can be bred quickly and require far less agricultural resources to cultivate and maintain than western livestock. Additionally, many of the 10 million dogs and 4 million cats killed for meat in China each year are strays or stolen pets.
Because dogs in China and other Asian countries have been farmed for consumption, many in the region do not have the attachment to dogs that we do in the west. In the minds of some Asians, eating a dog is no different from our chowing down on a chicken or a cow.
Unlike the meat industry in western countries, the dog meat industry in China remains wholly unregulated. The lack of oversight and abundant supply make dog meat a cheap and easy protein source. But there is a steep price: about 37% of cholera cases worldwide are from Asian countries, according the the World Health Organization.
Health concerns have not deterred unscrupulous traders, but it is hoped that the prospect of arrest and a $15,000 fine may pack some pull. Still, it is unclear how the ban will be enforced given that the Yulin Festival has never been officially sanctioned. Also, because the festival is a boon to the local economy, those in charge of enforcement may look the other way.
Despite the challenges to the effectiveness of this temporary ban, some are hopeful that it signals lasting change. “Even if this is a temporary ban, we hope this will have a domino effect, leading to the collapse of the dog meat trade,” Andrea Gung, executive director of Duo Duo Project, an anti-dog and cat meat campaign group told time.com . “This ban is consistent with my experience that Yulin and the rest of the country are changing for the better.”
Indeed. Dog ownership in Beijing is at an all-time high. Urbanites can now be seen with fur babies in tow (instead of on a skewer). It is a different story in poor, rural areas, however, where consumption of dog meat continues unabated.
No one could argue that the dog meat trade in general and the Yulin Festival specifically is not outright gluttony in its most savage form. Many believe that the release of adrenaline during the dog’s death agony tenderizes the dog meat and coaxes forth its full flavor.
But our outrage has a rub: western tradition accepts the systematic farming and slaughter of animals bred and raised solely for their by-products or for outright consumption. We don’t think of chickens as being cuddly. Cows can’t fetch. In our world, farm animals are generally not thought of as pets. So how do we reconcile this?
As a meat eater, I have rationalized that there are “humane” sources of animal protein to choose from: the grass-fed cow, the free-range chicken. For years, I eschewed pork - not because I’m a super-observant Jew - but because the movie Babe transformed the pig from edible commodity to precocious pet in my mind. Are there more chances for me to change my mind?
Every spoke on the Chinese wheel of astrology corresponds to a different animal. Both traditional pets and farm animals are represented.
The Chinese Year-of-the-Dog approaches in 2018. But maybe today their time has come.