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Sunday, 15 June 2014

To eat or not to eat dog meat, that is the question

THE controversial annual dog meat-eating festival will be held on the summer solstice (June 21) in Yulin, Guangxi Zhuang, when more than 10,000 dogs are likely to be slaughtered and served as hotpots with litchis and strong liquor.

The festival has once again brought China’s animal rights activists together to urge Yulin residents to stop eating dog meat and abolish the festival. This year, the confrontation between both groups is far more intense, with one citing social and moral norms and the other demanding respect for local customs.

In a joint appeal last year, 20 animal protection organisations such as the Research Centre for Animal Protection of the Northwest University of Politics and Law and the China Small Animal Protection Association said 2013 revealed a “black chain” of trading in stolen pet and stray dogs to Yulin. Worse, they say, because of lack of strict quarantine inspection, much of the dog meat sold in the market could be infected with rabies or other diseases.

Recent years have seen the emergence of similar animal-related issues such as the extraction of bear bile and protection of stray dogs and cats in communities.

Waves of protests have had a social impact, but in most cases things return to “normal” after a while, prompting people to wonder if fundamentals really exist to guarantee protection to animals.

The festival in Yulin is only a local folk custom, without any official sanction. While defenders of local traditions want to continue, animal rights activists want such festivals to be banned as they believe dogs, as man’s best friend, should not be killed for food.

Perhaps they should learn from the example set by South Korea, a country with a much longer dietary tradition of eating dog meat.

Way back in 1988, when Seoul was about to host the Olympic Games, animal protection groups from some countries demanded that South Korea ban the practice of eating dog meat and even “threatened” to boycott the Olympics if such a measure was not taken. To strike a balance, the South Korean government forced restaurants selling dog meat to shift from downtown to areas less likely to be frequented by foreigners visiting the country then.

In China, owing to the legal vacuum on the protection of domestic (or non-wild) animals, banning the dog meat-eating festival will not be a good solution. It requires time to encourage Yulin residents to change their dietary habit. Animal rights activists should respect other people’s choice of food.

But it is also important for dog meat eaters to understand animal rights activists’ appeal. The local government in Yulin could use the South Korean example to at least control the number of dogs slaughtered and minimise the negative social effects of the festival. - China Daily

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