In a victory for animal rights activists — and canines — China may have banned dog meat sales at festival

http://www.post-gazette.com/news/world/2017/05/19/In-a-victory-for-animal-rights-activists-and-canines-China-will-ban-dog-meat-sales-at-festival/stories/201705190136

BEIJING — Chinese authorities have banned dog meat sales at the country’s
notorious Yulin dog-eating festival, two U.S. nonprofit organizations
reported Wednesday in what animal rights advocates are calling a victory.

The annual festival in Yulin — a prefecture-level city in southwest China’s
Guangxi region — has in recent years emerged as a lightning rod for animal
rights activism, granting the sleepy city a degree of global infamy.
Activists say thousands of dogs — some of them abducted pets — are
slaughtered at the festival each year; they’re served alongside lychees and
grain alcohol to mark the summer solstice.

The Yulin government has banned the city’s dog meat vendors from selling
the meat for one week starting June 15, the U.S.-based Duo Duo Animal
Welfare Project and Humane Society International (HSI) said in a joint
statement, citing unidentified local contacts. The 10-day festival is
slated to begin June 21.

“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 the Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project, said in the statement. “I
have visited Yulin many times in the last two years. This ban is consistent
with my experience that Yulin and the rest of the country are changing for
the better.”

The organizations attributed the change to Yulin’s new Communist Party
secretary, Mo Gongming, who reportedly wants to improve Yulin’s national
and international image. Penalties, they said, include a fine of up to
$14,500 and jail time.

While there have been previous attempts to curtail sales of dog meat, this
is believed to be the first time that the government had threatened
concrete penalties.

The report could not be independently verified. A man who answered the
phone at the Yulin municipal government, has never openly supported the
festival, denied that it even existed. “There’s never been a dog meat
festival in Yulin,” said the man, who only gave his surname, Luo. (The
festival’s existence is well-documented).

People in parts of southern and northeastern China have prized dog meat for
centuries, considering it a delicacy with “heating qualities” that make it
comforting on cool days.

Yet, as China becomes wealthier — and more exposed to foreign ideas — its
attitudes toward dogs are shifting. Dogs have become popular pets among the
country’s burgeoning middle and upper classes; in major cities, it’s common
to see poodles, Pekingese, golden retrievers and huskies bouncing through
public parks, some dressed by their owners in doggie clothing.

Peter Li, a China policy specialist at HSI, said that the festival’s dog
meat sales have dropped each year since 2014, but will probably continue
despite the ban.

“It won’t be public resistance — like, ‘you don’t want us to sell, but we
still will’ — but they’ll probably do it secretly,” he said. “They’ll
probably sell it at night, or they’ll supply dog meat to restaurants. They
just won’t sell it at the market.”

He added that the organization received “oral notice” of the ban from local
dog meat traders, as well as three visitors to a local market. He had not
seen documentation of the ban.

Most Chinese people desire an end to the controversial festival, China’s
official New China News Agency reported in June 2016, citing a survey.

“It is embarrassing to us that the world wrongly believes that the brutally
cruel Yulin festival is part of Chinese culture,” Qin Xiaona, director of
the Capital Animal Welfare Association charity, a Chinese animal welfare
group, told the agency. “It isn’t.”

But the Yulin government is reluctant to completely shut the festival down,
said an employee of a Chinese animal rights group that has been
communicating with local officials for years — they consider it a proud
local tradition. The employee requested anonymity as her organization, like
many activist groups in China, is under close scrutiny from national
authorities.

Although the officials have no problem considering cats and dogs as
sustenance, she added, some still oppose the festival, as its mass, public
slaughter of dogs violates food safety regulations.

Hollywood celebrities including Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara
have pleaded for China to ban the festival. Last year, several animal
rights groups, including Duo Duo and HSI, amassed 11 million signatures on
a petition calling for its cancellation. Carrie Fisher, the late actress of
“Star Wars” fame, helped deliver it to China’s embassy in London.

“These poor dogs need us to fight for them,” she said at the time,
accompanied by her beloved French bulldog, Gary. “Every single one of them
is as precious as my dear Gary, every one of them is someone’s best friend.”

*The New York Times contributed.*

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