The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in the China’s city of Yulin has been the target of animal rights groups across the world for the cruel slaughter of dogs by the thousands each year. The dogs are brought in by meat traders who round up strays and steal pets or even service dogs. There are no dog meat farms in China as they would be unprofitable due to vaccination and feeding costs among many factors, so they are taken from other sources. The dogs are transported in tiny cages and often skinned alive at the festival, some still wearing their collars.
This year, however, Humane Society International and Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project (DDAWP) announced that the dog meat trade will be “likely banned” at this year’s festival. The ban would prohibit restaurants, street vendors, and meat traders from selling dog meat during the ten-day celebration. This new regulation would come thanks to a newly appointed Communist Party Secretary for Yulin, Mo Gong Ming, who is trying to improve the city’s international image. Here’s what you should know about the Dog Meat Festival, the ban of dog meat, and what it means for the dog meat trade in China.
Is The Dog Meat Festival A Chinese Tradition?
Dog meat has been eaten in China for over 500 years, but the Yulin Dog Meat Festival itself is not a tradition. It was created in 2010 by dog meat traders and sold to the public as a local tradition without the endorsement of the national Chinese government or local Yulin government. The dog meat traders have further encouraged nationalist sentiment by claiming that the backlash from the international community is the result of Western cultural imperialism.
However, most Chinese people do not eat dog meat. A 2016 poll showed that 52 percent of Chinese people want the dog meat festival banned (the percentage is much higher among those under the age of 50), and 70 percent of Chinese people have never eaten dog meat. Fewer than five percent of Chinese people eat dog meat frequently. A 2015 poll showed that 30 million urban households in China had pets, including dogs and cats, and that number is growing. The nation’s young people in particular would like to see an end to the dog meat trade. So the festival is not a tradition, and the consumption of dog meat is not widespread and is on the decline.
What Does ‘Likely Banned’ Mean?
Humane Society International received word from inside sources within the Yulin government that Mo Gong Ming plans to enact the ban of dog meat when he comes to office a week prior to the beginning of the festival on June 21st. Authorities will enforce the ban, which calls for a 100,000 yuan fine, equal to about $14,500 in U.S. dollars, and possible jail time for violators.
Some local dog meat restaurants, however, claim to have heard nothing of the ban. Many dog meat traders come from far away and will likely not have heard of the ban either, and some anti-dog meat festival activists within China have only heard rumors of a ban. The news has not been reported in local Yulin media, even though it would be good PR for the city.
The lack of an official announcement does not necessarily mean that the ban is just a rumor. The festival is a huge source of income for the city, and announcing the ban early could hurt the economy. Furthermore, the festival has been sold to the public as a tradition, and the banning of dog meat could create social unrest.
Keeping official government announcements regarding the dog meat festival under wraps is not unprecedented. In 2014, the Yulin government issued an internal memo forbidding government officials from visiting dog meat restaurants during the festival. The regulation was kept quiet in order for the government to keep its distance from the controversy it would cause, but the memo was leaked anyway. Since then, written documents concerning the dog meat festival are no longer issued, but new orders are mostly given verbally. So the lack of a paper trail in this case might not mean anything.
Last year, the Yulin government banned the killing of dogs in the open at the festival, which is symbolically a big step. Combined with the leaked 2014 memo, this indicates a willingness of the government to impose regulations limiting the festival and shows that they are trying to move in a direction against the dog meat trade. Hopefully the reports of the ban of dog meat at this year’s festival turn out to be true.
Is The Ban Permanent?
The ban is temporary and would only apply to this year’s dog meat festival. This is problematic because, with the lack of an official announcement, many dogs may be slaughtered leading up to the event anyway. Dog meat traders will resist drastic changes, and they’ve been effective in convincing much of the public that banning dog meat would be an attack on tradition. There is also no word on whether or not the ban will cover cats, which are also slaughtered for meat during the festival.
Still, the ban of dog meat at the festival would be a big first step. Andrea Gung, executive director of Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, said “Even if this is a temporary ban, we hope this will have a domino effect, leading to the collapse of the dog meat trade.” Some have suggested that dog meat vendors may give dog meat away to avoid being in violation of the ban, but this is unlikely. The festival is highly economically motivated, and vendors aren’t likely to give something away out-of-pocket to consumers.
Humane Society International remains hopeful that the ban would lead to the end of the dog meat trade in China. They are urging Yulin government officials to make the ban permanent, announce publicly that meat trucks bringing dogs into the city would face a penalty, enforce safety laws so tainted dog meat could not harm consumers, and build a government facility to shelter dogs rescued from dog meat traders.
Does The Ban Apply To All Of China?
The ban does not apply to all of China. The consumption of dog meat will remain legal on a national level, though as mentioned before, most people in China do not eat dog meat, and public sentiment is steadily turning against the practice. More and more people in China are taking dogs as pets and do not want to see harm come to other dogs.
China has cracked down on the ivory trade, and the government has called for citizens to reduce the consumption of meat in general. The production of meat requires a lot of resources, including grain, soil, and water. With China’s massive population, meat production is less sustainable. The animal protection movement in China is growing and will only get stronger in years to come. A local temporary ban may not go far in protecting dogs from the meat trade in the nation as a whole, but it could be a first step that builds momentum.
Who Is Responsible For The Ban?
The new Communist party Secretary in Yulin, Mo Gong Ming, has expressed a desire to turn Yulin into a cultural center in China. The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is at odds with that goal. It is for that reason that he has decided to enact the ban on the sale of dog meat.
However, pressure from the international community and locals has been effective in turning public opinion against the dog meat trade. Last year a petition that was signed by 11 million people around the world, including people in China, was given to the Yulin government calling for an end to the slaughter.
Protesters within China have also been effective in blocking dog meat traders. They focus on the fact that many of the dogs are stolen from homes, and some even go so far as to organize blockades of transport trucks on their way to dog meat processing facilities. One such protest that was organized over social media blocked an illegal dog meat trader on the highway and saved 500 dogs from slaughter.
Animal rights groups all over the world have worked to spread awareness of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, working with celebrities to direct outrage at the event. Combined with growing sentiment among China’s youth that the practice of dog meat consumption should be ended, it’s not so surprising that we would see a ban of dog meat at the festival. Without public support, such a ban would not be possible.
Is This The Beginning Of The End For The Dog Meat Trade?
It remains to be seen what the ban will imply for the dog meat trade in China, but animal rights advocates are hopeful. What it comes down to is a fight between perceived tradition and a growing desire for change within China. Certainly the Yulin Dog Meat Festival is seen as a black mark on Chinese culture internationally, as well as by many within the country who are embarrassed by the cruelty towards dogs, animals that are increasingly seen as companions.
The government has to walk a fine line between economic interests, public sentiment, and what is morally right. Any official government ban, even a temporary one, is a big step toward fighting the dog meat trade. With that in mind and with the continuing rise in public condemnation of the practice, it’s not inconceivable that we could see a permanent change in government policy. Such a change can’t come soon enough as dogs continue to be killed by the thousands. Time will tell. In the meantime, we must continue to speak out against the dog meat trade and encourage China to end it.
Do you think this is a good first step? Do you believe China will see an end to the dog meat trade soon? Let us know in the comments below!