Chinese legal experts call for ban on eating cats and dogs

Chinese legal experts are proposing a ban on eating dogs and cats in a contentious move to end a culinary tradition dating back thousands of years.

The recommendation will be submitted to higher authorities in April as part of a draft bill to tackle animal abuse.

In ancient times, dog meat was considered a medicinal tonic. Today, it is commonly available throughout the country, but particularly in the north where dog stew is popular for its supposed warming qualities.

In recent years, however, such traditions are increasingly criticised by an affluent, pet-loving, urban middle class. Online petitions against dog and cat consumption have attracted tens of thousands of signatures. Videos showing the maltreatment of farmed dogs have spurred protests at markets where the animals are bought and sold.

But the drafters of the new proposal want far more drastic measures, which would oblige law enforcement authorities to close down thousands of dog restaurants and butchers which supply the meat.

According to the draft, illegal sale or consumption of pets would incur a maximum penalty of 15 days in prison for individuals or a 500,000 yuan fine for businesses. Public security bureaus would be obliged to respond to hotline calls from the public about violations.

“We are proposing that all dog and cat eating should be banned because it is causing many social problems,” said Chang Jiwen, a law professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who heads the drafting team.

He said recent murders and thefts related to the dog meat trade showed that it had become a source of tension, while the economic impact of a ban would be small because an increasingly affluent population was less dependent on dog and cat meat.

The proposal reflects changing public opinion and international input. Drafters at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have been consulting for more than a year with Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the US-based International Fund for Animal Welfare.

But the plan for a dog meat ban has stirred up fierce debate between animal welfare groups and defenders of traditional values.

“I support this proposal. Whether you judge this as a question of food security or emotions, there is absolutely no necessity in China for people to eat dogs and cats,” said Zeng Li, the founder of the Lucky Cats shelter in Beijing. “We need something more than moral pressure. Beijing’s dog restaurants get their meat mainly from vagrant and stolen dogs. In the suburbs, dogs are hung and slaughtered in front of buyers.”

Online critics said it was hypocritical to protect only dogs and cats, and that the government should focus on human welfare before protecting animals.

“This is absurd. Why only dogs and cats? How about pigs, cows and sheep,” wrote a poster going by the name Mummy on the Xhinua news agency website.

“I hope the experts went to see what laid-off workers and people in rural areas have to eat. They should pay more concern to problems that people really care about,” said another contributor under the name Starfish.

Even before the pet meat ban, the draft bill had already provoked controversy. Initial plans for a comprehensive animal welfare law had to be dropped in the face of criticism that human living conditions ought to be the priority at this stage in China’s development.

The focus has now been narrowed to prevention of animal abuse, which is defined as inflicting unnecessary pain and brutality. Even so, it is far from certain that the draft will be adopted by the government or the National People’s Congress.

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