An infamous Chinese festival that slaughters thousands of dogs per year has failed to implement a hoped-for ban on dog meat sales, outraging animal-welfare advocates.
“It seems likely there will not be an overt ban on dog meat sales in the city of Yulin during this year’s summer solstice,” said Irene Feng, the cat and dog animal welfare director for Animals Asia, in a statement. “However, we do believe that the government has had enough and wants to end the global association of Yulin city with the minority practice of eating dog meat.”
In May, the animal-welfare groups Humane Society International and Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project first reported that government officials in Yulin were considering a ban on selling dog meat at the city’s Lychee and Dog Meat Festival.
Founded in 2010, the festival became internationally infamous overnight. Advocacy groups in China and around the world have condemned the event for slaughtering thousands of dogs and cats, many of them alleged strays or stolen pets.
According to the groups, Yulin’s ban was supposed to forbid the sale of dog meat beginning June 15, a week before the festival’s June 21 opening. Violators of the ban reportedly would have faced risk of arrest and fines up to 100,000 yuan ($14,700). (National Geographic has been unable to independently confirm the groups’ claims.)
However, photographs and video recently obtained by animal-welfare advocates suggest that dog meat is still readily available in Yulin.
DOG MEAT SALES CONTINUE AT CHINESE FESTIVAL DESPITE EXPECTED BAN
One of the videos, filmed by Marc Ching of the U.S.-based group Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, documents a walk through Nanqiao, one of Yulin’s dog-meat markets.
In the livestreamed Facebook video filmed on June 16, Ching walks through the market, his camera sweeping across stands brimming with dozens of dog carcasses. Vibrant signage advertises “freshly killed black dogs” and “locally grown pugs.” Yet as Ching notes in the footage, June 16 would have been the second day of the rumoured ban.
Additional footage provided to National Geographic by the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation shows a scooter laden with live dogs tightly packed into cages. In the footage, also dated June 16, Ching says that the scooter was on its way to Yulin.
“Why this is so terrible is that usually, everybody’s fighting and trying to put pressure on the government to take action—this year, there was none of that, people thought it was over,” says Ching in the Facebook video. “Even when we went to Congress to speak to lawmakers about the festival [and] H.Res. 30, many of them had mentioned: ‘Why push something through when the festival is over?’”
H.Res. 30, a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), would serve as an official U.S. denouncement of the Yulin festival. The bill calls the festival “a spectacle of extreme animal cruelty” and “urges the National People's Congress of China to enact an animal anti-cruelty law with provisions banning the dog meat trade.”
THE BAN THAT WASN’T
Peter Li, a China policy specialist at Humane Society International, told National Geographic by email that after learning of the ban, Humane Society International and Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project repeatedly received confirmation that the ban was moving forward. However, he now says that the ban was recently watered down, based on local sources who he says talked to dog-meat traders.
According to Li, the situation fell apart on June 13, just two days before the ban’s scheduled start, after several dog-meat traders met with five Yulin government departments.
“In this meeting, the vendors threatened the government and protested the ban, arguing: ‘If we stop dog meat sales for seven days, are you feeding us and our families?’” Li says. “The vendors demanded compensation for loss of business.”
In response, Li says that Yulin’s government made a major concession to the traders. Instead of stopping the sales of dog meat completely, the government merely suggested that vendors not display dog meat at their stands for seven days. In follow-up remarks on June 19, Li said that vendors are now allowed to sell but can’t display more than two dead dogs each.
“This is a sad development of the Yulin authorities bowing to the interest of the dog meat traders,” he adds. “This change of mind sent a very bad signal to the vendors.”
Li also says that local officials are working to prevent the public display of dog meat. Li provided National Geographic video that appears to show an increased police presence in the Nanqiao market on June 16, the same day (local time) as Marc Ching’s live Facebook video.
While animal-welfare groups appear to agree that the ban has not materialised, not all agree with Li's exact account. Valarie Ianniello, the executive director of the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, disputes Li's account of the June 13 meeting and calls earlier reports of a ban "clearly not true."
"It just seems to be getting worse, not better," she says, noting dog meat's relatively high price—more than $2 per pound, according to Ianniello—creates a strong financial incentive for traders to continue.
While animal-welfare groups appear to agree that the ban has not materialised, not all agree with Li. Valarie Ianniello, the executive director of the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, disputes Humane Society International's account of the June 13 meeting and calls earlier reports of a ban "clearly not true." (In a statement, Li defended his sourcing for both accounts.)
"It just seems to be getting worse, not better," Ianniello says, in part because of the persistent financial incentive. Even when unseasoned, dog meat can command a relatively high price—more than $2 per pound, she says.
Chinese media reports cited by Radio Free Asia and Animals Asia say that Yulin’s government denies the existence of the ban, though Radio Free Asia reports that local officials did warn dog-meat traders not to publicly display their wares.
FAR FROM ALONE
Animal-welfare advocates emphasise that while Yulin is a stark example of the dog-meat trade’s cruelty, it is far from the only one.
Although public opinion in China has turned against eating dog meat—especially among young people—an estimated 10 million dogs and 4 million cats are still slaughtered every year in China for human consumption, according to Humane Society International estimates.
“...The international attention given to Yulin for one week of the year is becoming a distraction from the much larger issue of the dog meat trade’s activities every single day of the year across the country,” said Feng, the cat and dog animal welfare director for Animals Asia. “That is the real issue and it requires a consistent and holistic approach—it can’t be solved in a week.”