Shenzhen is now the first city in China to ban the consumption of dog and cat meat.
According to the Humane Society International (HSI), the law, which was proposed last February, comes into effect on May 1. Dog and cat meat will no longer be allowed to be sold at restaurants as well as live markets. The new legislation also includes a permanent ban on the consumption, breeding, and sale of wildlife—including snakes, lizards, and other wild animals—for human consumption.
Announcing the ban, a spokesperson for the Shenzhen government said: “… dogs and cats as pets have established a much closer relationship with humans than all other animals, and banning the consumption of dogs and cats and other pets is a common practice in developed countries and in Hong Kong and Taiwan. This ban also responds to the demand and spirit of human civilization.”
The ban also clarifies which animal meat may be eaten: pig, cattle, sheep, rabbit, and chicken.
Dr. Peter Li, China policy specialist for HSI spoke to the ban’s significance: “With Shenzhen taking the historic decision to become mainland China’s first city to ban dog and cat meat consumption, this really could be a watershed moment in efforts to end this brutal trade that kills an estimated 10 million dogs and 4 million cats in China every year.”
Is Dog and Cat Meat Falling Out of Favor?
Last summer, South Korea shut down one of its biggest dog meat markets. Gupo Livestock Market in Busan is being turned into a public park.
In 2018, Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi pledged to ban the dog meat trade by 2021. In the same year, the government of Indonesia pledged to work towards banning the sale of dog and cat meat altogether.
Aside from the ethical concerns, the trade is dangerous. The World Health Organization has warned that the dog meat trade could help to spread diseases, including rabies.
The deadly virus is present on every continent in the world, apart from Antarctica, but the majority of human infections occur in Asia and Africa. In 2006, Filipino media reported two cases of people dying from eating rabies-infected dog meat.
Why Do People Eat Dog Meat?
In many places across Asia, eating dog meat is a century-old tradition. It’s thought to help people cope with the intense heat of the summer. Some believe it helps to regulate the internal body temperature, and some eat it in the winter for the same reason.
Yun Xing, a Chinese student at The Netherlands’ Wageningen University & Research, wrote for the university’s magazine in 2014, “the south of China differs from the north. In Beijing, hardly anybody eats dog but in the south, it is quite normal. A friend from Guanxi told me that this is because they don’t have a heating system there.”
There are other reasons why people choose to consume dog meat. Julien Dugnoille—an Anthropology lecturer at the University of Exeter—says, in South Korea, some believe it improves sexual stamina.
He writes for The Conversation, “eating dog meat is thought to regulate body temperature, and consumption reaches its annual peak during the summer. However, it is also consumed steadily throughout the year, especially in the context of all-male social gatherings.”
He notes that some believe if a dog is beaten to death, the rush of adrenaline will “increase the sexual stamina of the person who consumes the flesh.”
Why Do People Eat Cat Meat?
Like dog meat, cat meat is often eaten because of the perceived health benefits. According to Dugnoille, middle-aged working-class women consume cat meat in South Korea. “Because cats are agile creatures, their meat and bones are thought to cure rheumatism,” he notes.
Another reason is that cats are not as expensive as dogs. “This substitution helps keep the production cost down in a market,” says Dugnoille. “A cat costs about the equivalent of £10, while a dog is about £100.”
Is the West Hypocritical?
Many people in the west look down on consuming dog or cat meat. But every year, Britain’s slaughterhouses kill around one billion animals—including chickens, cows, pigs, and sheep—for human consumption, says animal rights organization Viva! In the U.S., more than nine billion farm animals were killed for food in 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Xing believes that people who judge others for eating dog meat, but happily eat chicken, pork, or lamb, are hypocritical. He notes, “perhaps it is even sadder for pigs, since they are more intelligent.”
Like dog meat in Asia, sometimes westerners consume meat products for the perceived health benefits. Some believe that chicken soup, for example, will help to fight off a cold or the flu. But primarily, people eat meat for the taste, and simply because it is what they have always done.
Dr. Melanie Joy calls this confusing aspect of human nature “carnism.”
Joy, a social psychologist, is the author of “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.” She is also the founder of U.S. organization Beyond Carnism.
“Carnism is the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals,” says the organization.
It adds, “because carnism is invisible, people rarely realize that eating animals is a choice, rather than a given. In meat-eating cultures around the world, people typically don’t think about why they eat certain animals but not others, or why they eat any animals at all.”
BBC Newsbeat says that in the west, many won’t eat dogs because they like and respect them more than other animals. They think they are more intelligent, despite the fact that pigs are actually the fifth smartest animal in the world.
“We think of dogs as having very complex minds,” Dr. Thalia Gjersoe, a lecturer in developmental psychology, told the news program. “That’s why the thought of eating them is disgusting, in the same way, we would think eating one of our friends is disgusting.”
In China, HSI believes attitudes towards dogs and cats are starting to mirror those in the west, as seen with Shenzhen’s new ban.
The organization’s director of international media Wendy Higgins told the Guardian, “there is a growing and vocal Chinese opposition to the dog and cat meat trade. Young people in China are far more likely to think of dogs as companions than cuisine.”