The Chinese government has signalled an end to the human consumption of dogs, with the agriculture ministry today releasing a draft policy that would forbid canine meat.
Citing the “progress of human civilisation” as well as growing public concern over animal welfare and prevention of disease transmission from animals to humans, China’s Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs singled out canines as forbidden in a draft “white list” of animals allowed to be raised for meat.
The ministry called dogs a “special companion animal” and one not internationally recognised as livestock.
The city of Shenzhen recently approved the first ever mainland China ban on consumption of dog and cat meat, a move that has given hope to animal welfare groups worldwide that other parts of the country could soon follow suit. The new draft policy has provided even more.
“The signal is the first ever from a ministry that dogs are not food animals,” Paul Littlefair, international head of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told the Guardian. “[This] leaves the door open for local governments to follow Shenzhen’s lead.”
While not officially a ban on the consumption of dog meat, the draft policy from the agriculture ministry could be a “game changer moment for animal welfare in China”, Wendy Higgins of Humane Society International (HSI) told the Guardian.
“That signals a major shift, recognising that most people in China don’t eat dogs and cats and want an end to the theft of their companion animals for a meat trade that only a small percentage of the population indulge in,” Higgins said.
HSI estimates that between 10 and 20 million dogs are killed in China for their meat annually, while Animals Asia puts the figure for cats at around 4 million per year.
Most of these are stolen animals and not raised in captive breeding facilities, Higgins said.
“Not only does it cause enormous animal suffering, but it is also almost entirely fuelled by crime and, perhaps most significantly right now, poses an undeniable human health threat with the risk of diseases such as rabies and cholera,” she said.
The updated agriculture ministry list includes the addition of several wildlife species allowed to be farmed under animal husbandry laws if the policy is not altered following a public comment period that runs through May 8.
Wildlife such as deer, game birds, along with mink, two kinds of foxes, and other animals were included on a list of animals expected to be approved as farm-raised species once China’s central government lifts a ban on the wildlife trade.
The temporary wildlife trade ban was imposed from late January in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, largely thought to have originated in the formal or illicit wildlife supply chain.
But campaigners hope the government will go still further. Peter Li, China Policy Specialist with HSI, told the Guardian: “Listing wild animals, including foxes and raccoon dogs, as ‘special livestock’ is concerning. Rebranding wildlife as livestock doesn’t alter the fact that there are insurmountable challenges to keeping these species in farm environments, their welfare needs simply can’t be met. In addition, there’s clear evidence that some of these species can act as intermediate hosts of viruses, such as Covid-19, which is why we’re urging China and all governments to stop trading in wildlife.”