To eat, or not to eat dog meat

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The con­tro­ver­sial an­nual dog meat-eat­ing fes­ti­val will be held on the sum­mer sol­stice (June 21) in Yulin, Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion, when more than 10,000 dogs are likely to be slaugh­tered and served as hot­pots with litchis and strong liquor.

The fes­ti­val has once again brought China’s an­i­mal rights ac­tivists to­gether, who, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with some well-known ac­tors, have urged Yulin res­i­dents to stop eat­ing dog meat and abol­ish the fes­ti­val. This year, how­ever, the con­fronta­tion be­tween the groups op­posed to and sup­port­ing the fes­ti­val is far more in­tense, with one cit­ing so­cial and moral norms to prove its point and the other de­mand­ing re­spect for lo­cal cus­toms.

In a joint ap­peal last year, 20 an­i­mal pro­tec­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Re­search Cen­ter for An­i­mal Pro­tec­tion of the North­west Univer­sity of Pol­i­tics and Lawand China Small An­i­mal Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion have said 2013 re­vealed a “black chain” of trad­ing in stolen pet and stray dogs to Yulin. Worse, they say, be­cause of lack of strict quar­an­tine in­spec­tion, much of the dog meat sold in the mar­ket could be in­fected with ra­bies or other dis­eases jeop­ar­diz­ing the health of con­sumers.

Re­cent years have seen the emer­gence of sim­i­lar an­i­mal-re­lated is­sues — for ex­am­ple, ex­trac­tion of bear bile and pro­tec­tion of stray dogs and cats in com­mu­ni­ties. But de­spite the con­certed ef­forts of an­i­mal rights ac­tivists, things have not al­ways turned out to be their lik­ing. Waves of protests and re­sis­tance have had a so­cial im­pact, but in most cases they have been tem­po­rary with things re­turn­ing to “nor­mal” af­ter a while, prompt­ing people to won­der whether fun­da­men­tals ex­ist to guar­an­tee pro­tec­tion to an­i­mals or their strug­gles will sim­ply end in fruit­less quar­rels.

The dog meat-eat­ing fes­ti­val in Yulin is only a lo­cal folk cus­tom, with­out any of­fi­cial sanc­tion, to cel­e­brate the sum­mer sol­stice. The con­tro­versy over the fes­ti­val re­veals the con­fronta­tion be­tween tra­di­tional cus­toms and the mod­ern idea of an­i­mal pro­tec­tion. While de­fend­ers of lo­cal tra­di­tions want to con­tinue them and en­joy the tra­di­tional lo­cal dishes, an­i­mal rights ac­tivists want fes­ti­vals like Yulin to be banned be­cause they be­lieve dogs, as man’s best friend, should not be killed for food. With such ex­tremely op­po­site opin­ions, the two sides are un­likely to re­solve their dif­fer­ences any time soon.

Per­haps they should learn from the ex­am­ple set by South Korea, a coun­try that has a much longer di­etary tra­di­tion of eat­ing dog meat. In South Korea, people be­lieve that dog meat helps ward off the ef­fects of hot sum­mer days, al­though the de­bate over whether South Kore­ans should con­tinue eat­ing dog meat continues to oc­cupy pub­lic space.

Way back in 1988, when Seoul was about to host the Olympic Games, an­i­mal pro­tec­tion groups from some coun­tries de­manded that South Korea ban the prac­tice of eat­ing dog meat and even “threat­ened” to boy­cott the Olympics if such a mea­sure was not taken. To strike a bal­ance be­tween South Kore­ans’ love for dog meat and some for­eign coun­tries’ and an­i­mal rights groups’ de­mand for a ban, the South Korean govern­ment forced restaurants sell­ing dog meat to shift from down­town to ar­eas less likely to be fre­quented by for­eign­ers vis­it­ing the coun­try to watch the Olympics Games. And dur­ing the 2002World Cup, which South Korea co-hosted with Ja­pan, a large num­ber of such restaurants in Seoul were ei­ther closed down or moved to the city’s out­skirts or other cities for good.

In China, ow­ing to the le­gal vac­uum on the pro­tec­tion of do­mes­tic (or non­wild) an­i­mals, ban­ning the dog meateat­ing fes­ti­val will not be a good so­lu­tion. It re­quires time to en­cour­age Yulin res­i­dents to change their di­etary habit. An­i­mal rights ac­tivists should re­spect other people’s choice of food in this vast coun­try of more than 50 eth­nic groups.

But it is also im­por­tant for people who eat dog meat to un­der­stand an­i­mal rights ac­tivists’ ap­peal. The lo­cal govern­ment in Yulin could use the South Korean ex­am­ple to at least con­trol the num­ber of dogs slaugh­tered on the sum­mer sol­stice and min­i­mize the neg­a­tive so­cial ef­fects of the fes­ti­val. The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. xiaolixin@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

WANG XIAOYING / CHINA DAILY

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