The southern city of Shenzhen is the first in mainland China to ban the eating of dog and cat meat as part of newly approved food safety legislation aimed at addressing the wildlife trade.
The Shenzhen Special Economic Region Regulation on a Comprehensive Ban on the Consumption of Wild Animals was proposed by city lawmakers in February. Beginning May 1, the permanent ban clarifies species permitted for consumption – like pigs, cattle, sheep, rabbit, seafood, and chicken – while also prohibiting the breeding, eating, and selling of wildlife like snakes and lizards. Those who break the law may be faced with heavy fines beginning at 150,000 yuan (around $21,000 USD).
China placed a temporary ban on the trade of wildlife in January shortly before the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency over the coronavirus outbreak. As of April 2, more than 82,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country, according to a WHO situation report.
Dr Peter Li, the China policy specialist for animal protection charity Humane Society International, estimates that the ban could prevent the killing of around 10 million dogs and 4 million cats in China every year, the majority of which he says are “stolen from people’s back yards or snatched from the streets.”
“Most people in China don’t eat dog or cat meat, and there is considerable opposition to the trade particularly among younger Chinese,” said Li in a statement. Less than 20 percent of the Chinese population eat dog meat infrequently and a majority of people in Yulin, the hometown of the dog festival, don’t regularly eat dog meat. More than half of the population polled wish to see the festival end.
“Although World Health Organization advice is clear that dogs and cats pose no known coronavirus threat whatsoever, it’s no surprise that attention is turning to this trade at this time because it undoubtedly poses a huge human health risk for other diseases such as rabies, as well as causing immense animal suffering.”
Though the ban does not expressly ban dogs or cats in the text, it outlines which species of animals may be bred, raised, and sold for human consumption. A spokesperson for the government told the Shenzhen News Network that “cats and dogs as pets have established a closer relationship with humans than other animals, and pets such as cats and dogs are banned in many developed countries and Hong Kong and Taiwan.”