Dogs and cats can breathe easier as they could soon be off the menu. At law-abiding restaurants, at least.
Newly proposed legislation aiming to protect animals from abuse will include provisions making it illegal to eat dogs or cats.
Dog meat – known euphemistically in the mainland as “fragrant meat” – is a culinary tradition dating back thousands of years.
Consumption is most popular in the northeast of the country, where the dish is believed to have warming properties useful for seeing off the winter cold.
It’s different in the warmer southern province of Guangdong, where dogs are eaten for their purported medicinal benefits.
Cats are a less popular chew (at least one local superstition has the animal returning in the middle of night to take revenge on its consumer).
Nevertheless, there is demand for both. The Animals Asia Foundation estimates that 10 million dogs and four million cats are sold in China for consumption every year.
Most netizens seem to support the draft law. In an online survey on Sohu.com, a major Chinese portal, 57% of the 178,000 votes were in favour.
“Cats and dogs are our favourite pets, they are entitled to their own rights, why should people eat them?” asked one netizen.
But defenders of traditional values cry foul. Some attacked the law as another example of the blind adoption of international ethics without regard to the local cultural context. (A similar line of argument to opponents of the fox-hunting ban in Britain).
Others object to being told what meat they can and can’t eat.
“In this case chicken, duck, pork and beef should all be banned too, and we should all go vegetarian,” was the comment from one irritated netizen on 163.com.
Individuals tempted by a spot of canine cuisine could face fines of Rmb5,000 and up to 15 days in jail. Shops and restaurants will be hit with stiffer penalties.
“Cats and dogs are human beings’ best friends. We are always opposed to eating such animals. Those who eat them must definitely be punished,” says Wang Yan, a staff member at the Beijing-based Association of Small Animal Protection.
But everyone seems to be getting a little ahead of themselves.
The China Daily reports that the draft law has not been included in the agenda of the National People’s Congress, which opens its annual session in March. That means there is little likelihood that the ban will be adopted as a law in the near term.
Why even a prospective change in the law? Some think that the country’s political leadership might be a little embarrassed by the culinary tradition, regarding it as out of place in modern day China.
China’s increasingly affluent middle class may agree. More of them are becoming dog lovers like many of their counterparts in the West too.
In the most high-profile case of animal affection, a woman in Xi’an grabbed headlines last September when she paid Rmb4 million for a Tibetan mastiff – a rare breed from Central Asia.
She then opted to collect the dog from the airport in a 30-car convoy, and was much quoted by the media for claiming that: “Gold has a price but this Tibetan mastiff doesn’t.”
Back in the real world, more Chinese are doting on their dogs, says Wang Zheng, manager of China Kennel Club Interntional. He says in Beijing alone the number of licensed dogs has surged to 800,000.
Sales of pet food are also growing. Nestlé, the world’s largest producer of pet food, established its first pet food manufacturing facility in Tianjin in 2007 to cater to the growing demand. The market for pet food and pet-care products in China exceeded Rmb6 billion last year, says Euromonitor International.
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