Sat, Jun 23, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Dog meat festival tones it down, critics change tack

COUNTERPRODUCTIVE?More than 10 million dogs are eaten in China each year and campaigners said addressing consumption on a national level might be more effective

AFP, YULIN, China

A vendor on Wednesday prepares dog meat at her stall in the Dongkou wet market in Yulin in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, ahead of the Yulin dog meat festival, which opened on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

As South Korea moves closer to banning dog meat, diners tucked into bowls of stewed canine in southern China, where activists are rethinking their tactics to counter a notorious festival that butchers thousands of dogs.

The annual Yulin dog meat celebration opened without a hitch on Thursday, a day after the Bucheon City Court in South Korea ruled that meat consumption was not a legal reason to kill dogs and fined an operator 3 million won (US$2,709).

Campaigners said that the ruling could pave the way for the outlawing of dog meat consumption in South Korea, but there is less progress in China, where advocates fear that their tactics have been counterproductive.

Eating dog to mark the summer solstice is a tradition in the town of Yulin, in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, where the festival has been held since 2009 to mark the occasion.

Despite rumors last year that Yulin authorities would ban dog meat sales altogether, many restaurants this week advertised the controversial offering under the veiled moniker of “fragrant meat.”

Carcasses were on display for purchase in the city’s open-air markets — although there were fewer of them than in previous years, locals said.

The Dongkou wet market downtown bustled with shoppers meandering past piles of dogs laid out atop meat stalls for them to inspect. Others hung from hooks, their faces locked in a rigid grimace.

Market workers pulled in cartfuls of dead dogs while sweaty men blow-torched the fresher carcasses to remove any remaining fur. On the street, a man transported two live mutts in a cage on the back of his scooter.

As police patrolled outside the market premises, one woman bought a full dog for 662 yuan (US$101.75), saying she would eat it with her family to celebrate the summer solstice.

“It’s very tasty,” another local, surnamed Chen (陳), told reporters, insisting that “they’re all strays — strays and pets are different.”

Chen said he did not consider it cruel to consume the meat during what the Chinese zodiac system deems the Year of the Dog, quipping: “Don’t you eat chicken in the year of the rooster, and pork in the year of the pig?”

However, vendors were more discreet than usual.

They cooked in narrow alleys or inside their restaurants instead of preparing dog dishes in front of patrons, ushering diners inside and not serving outdoors.

Thousands of dogs are butchered during the event, animal protection organization Humane Society International has estimated — a fraction of the more than 10 million consumed each year in China.

Animal rights campaigners have typically attended the festival to purchase ill-fated dogs and save them from slaughter, said Qiao Wei (喬偉), a volunteer from the Sichuan Qiming Animal Protection Center.

However, now they feel that working to establish a general ban on the dog meat trade would be much more effective.

“We have no hope that we can bring change just by going to Yulin,” he said, adding that simply buying dogs “doesn’t help.”

An animal rights groups said that focusing so intensively on dog meat consumption in just one city at an annual event risks becoming counterproductive.

“It would be far better to have a holistic campaign that works collaboratively across the country, engaging the government and public to acknowledge animals as our friends, not food,” said Jill Robinson, founder of the Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation.

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