Yulin Torture Festival is scheduled this year to take place behind closed doors - healthier eating or a token gesture to Hong Kong politicians?
A few years ago in 2013, when NoToDogMeat was founded, China seemed impenetrable and unhearing but now we are beginning to see the results of campaigning and activism - an effort to address the issue by the Chinese authorities.
Most encouraging, is that it has become clear that many Chinese think the same as those of us who have been shouting from the outside. In a poll this week 64% of Chinese have been shown to be against the Yulin festival. This year the outcry against Yulin has become mainstream internationally as celebrities and even UK politicians have begun to speak out. So far, the Beijing government has remained silent on the issue but even though the Chinese embassy in London refused to accept an 11 million strong petition, real cracks seem to seem to be appearing in the once unbreakable edifice.
China is not a democracy but public opinion still carries a degree of weight as do the attitudes of the outside world. The authorities are also open to the very common sense public health arguments. Comments from the Yulin government last week indicated there is now no theoretical barrier to the possibility even of animal welfare laws - which up till now have only existed in Westernised Hong Kong.
Does Michael Tien's appeal herald that Hong Kong will be a bridge to animal welfare legislation in China's mainland?
In the last few weeks Michael Tien, Hong Kong deputy to China's National People's Congress lobbied to end the festival. They have responded quickly by banning the slaughter of dogs in the streets, saying "The dog meat festival, though not promoted by the local government, is a private and spontaneous activity. However, the Yulin authorities and relevant government agencies will take immediate actions to prevent it from happening again." The Ministry of Agriculture in Beijing have also said they were looking to put "measures in place" after Chinese legislator Zhang Dejiang called for improvements and reforms to the country's food safety supervision system.
Reportedly, the annual protest campaigns have helped to drastically reduce the slaughter with an estimated 2,000 dogs killed during the three-day festival last year, compared to more than 10,000 in 2012 and 2013. Local officials have also felt the pressure and responded by shutting down some markets and slaughterhouses and declining to attend the festivities themselves.
So it seems China is now at a crossroads now with the dog meat trade: the authorities have now taken notice but what will they decide? The political reaction now could be pivotal to the dog meat trade issue as a whole - China could set a precedent for the rest of the Far East.
Julia de Cadenet in Chinese yard with dogs just rescued from a truck.
At this point, we at NoToDogMeat are seeing our work of the last four years come to fruition as we finally bring some of our sponsored dogs to the UK - Annabel, Camille and Oliver. Bringing our first sponsored dogs to the UK in this way is a proud moment and for Camille to represent his Asian brothers and sisters at the Chinese Embassy last week was a testament that dogs are more than just food. There are many more dogs like Camille and Oliver who need loving homes and their daily needs cared for and we are appealing for kind - hearted sponsors to come forward.
Camille with Ladies of London stars at Chinese embassy demo last week.
Proud of being the first in the West activists to campaign against Yulin - we have extended our reach to working closely over the last year with rescuers and activists in China. Working with them as they bravely stopped trucks we have been able to identify what they need in terms of education, shelter training and veterinary support. As such we are now raising funds to equip 'first response' veterinary trucks for them as well as developing education programmes they can use in the more rural areas of China which have little access to social media. It is fair to say that progress has been made. Working closely with local activists and rescuers and responding to their needs on government controls, vaccination against disease and education in the rural areas is the way forward.
In the past, animal activists have made various attempts to rescue man's best friend from the annual festival, including halting trucks transporting dogs to Yulin, even spending 500,000 RMB to buy the condemned dogs. While we work to intercept trucks before they make it to Yulin and lobby for animal welfare laws, some American groups have suggested 'buying out' slaughterhouses and dog meat restaurants. As East battles West on challenging customs and traditions, charities in both continents pushing for animal welfare laws debate over the Hollywood solution to pay slaughterhouses to shut down, or open vegan restaurants.
This complicated issue is about more than food safety and pushing economics over ethics. 'Throwing money' at the problem will not stop this trade. The sad reality of the trucks our activists stop bringing dogs into the festival is the the same drivers can be "bought to ship them out".
A Few Fast Facts
- Consuming dog meat puts individuals at risk of infection from such deadly parasites as E.coli 107 and salmonella (commonly found in contaminated meats), as well as at risk of contracting other serious and potentially deadly bacterial diseases such as anthrax, brucellosis, hepatitis, and leptospirosis.
- Hong Kong is the only country in Asia where eating /selling or trading dog meat is punishable by imprisonment. It was also the first country (in 1950) to ban the practice.
- Philippines and Taiwan have followed suit imposing fines on those involved in the trade but Vietnamese and Korean workers still manage to slip the net.
- WHO/OIE has plans to help eradicate the spread of rabies throughout Asia and banning the dog meat trade would go a long way to achieving this.
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