When I first discussed the idea of writing this article with several friends, the responses generally went something like this,” I don’t even want to think about eating dogs” or “that is their culture we eat beef and chicken so what. It is estimated that each year Two Million dogs in Korea and Ten million in China are killed each year for their meat and fur.
The Argument that a certain practice is historically part of a culture does not make it acceptable – slavery was once considered acceptable. The argument is absurd as in many places where dogs are eaten the practice is less than a few generation old. Did you know that researchers now believe that the SARS epidemic began its human to human transition in these live animal markets with cages piled high with dogs and cats waiting to be slaughtered? You may be surprised to know that many of the fur trimmed accessories on your children’s toys are not faux fur at all but dog or cat fur which is much cheaper to buy then to actually manufacture the imitation faux fur.
In this feature we will be exploring the cultural, moral, historical, economic, legislative, health, cruelty and welfare issues relating to this practice. Finally we will discuss what you can do to change the situation without ever leaving the country.
Be Warned. Many may find reading this very disturbing.
Recently some Chinese animal-rights activists stopped a truck carrying about 500 dogs on the Beijing-Harbin Highway and saved these dogs from being slaughtered and served as food in restaurants in Changchun, Jilin Province. Mr. An, an animal rights activist and volunteer at Beijing-based China Small Animal Protection Association, saw the truck stacked with cages of cramped and whimpering dogs. Suspecting the dogs were illegally acquired, he forced the truck to stop. He then called a friend for help and through him published a plea on Sina Weibo, a Twitter like social networking and micro-blogging service popular in China. The blog attracted more than 100 animal rights activists, who gathered with water, medicine and food for the dogs. Their presence jammed the highway temporarily and forced police to shut down a nearby exit. The police later found that the truck driver had all the necessary paperwork, including those regarding animal quarantine and immunity for the dogs, but activists refused to abandon their rescue effort. The 15 hour intense overnight negotiations ended with a pet company and an environmental conservation foundation co-buying the dogs for about 115,000 yuan ($17,606).
This incident triggered a hot debate on whether eating dog meat should be banned. Opponents said that the dog rescue was a violation of the rights of those who eat dog meat and of businesses dealing in dog meat. Animal protection supporters countered that calling brutalizing dogs a sign of moral degradation. This incident suggests that China has come to a stage where the Chinese authorities must address the social stability and public health issues connected to the uncontrolled dog-eating culinary sub-culture.
The Culture of Eating Dog Meat
People in China have been eating dog meat for a long time, even though it’s a relatively expensive affair. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), King Goujian of the Yue Kingdom, before going to war against the Wu Kingdom, awarded dogs to women who gave birth to boys and pigs to those who gave birth to girls. Dog meat cost more than pork even then.
According to Records of the Grand Historian, Fan Kuai, a senior military general who helped found the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), made a living as a dog butcher when he was young.
Many consider dog meat not only a delicacy, but also to have medicinal properties. Bencao Gangmu (or Compendium of Materia Medica), the seminal work of medical and pharmaceutical expert Li Shizhen of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), describes dog meat as warm, yang-nourishing and especially beneficial for the kidneys and stomach.
Eating dog meat is a socially acceptable practice in parts of southern China. Believed to have medicinal qualities, dog meat is consumed as a energizer food, providing warmth in the winter months, as well as helping cure fatigue, low back pain, poor memory and slow digestion in older men. (Interestingly, and paradoxically, dog meat is eaten in South Korea during the summer months to cool the body down.) Dog skin and gallstones are used to strengthen the body or heal sickness, dog penis and testes are used for impotence and lowered sex drive, and dog kidney is consumed to cure impotence and premature ejaculation. The bones of dogs are sometimes used as an alternative to tiger bone to treat rheumatism. Although dog meat is not seen at dinner tables as much as pork, beef or other kinds of white meat, some parts of China still favor the canine dish – especially in the northeast along the border with Korea and in the southern provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong. Traditionally confined primarily to southern China and a few spots in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu, the practice of eating dog began to spread throughout China in the late 1980s as the country became more affluent. Many people view less superior breeds of dogs as edible “meat dogs,” even while having pet dogs themselves.
Cruelty and Torture of Dogs
Controversy has emerged about the treatment of dogs in China, not because of the consumption itself, but because of other factors like cruelty involved with the killing. It is estimated that up to 10 million dogs are slaughtered every year in China, many suffer a lingering and violent death in the belief that “torture equals taste”. The dogs are bludgeoned over the head, stabbed in the neck and bled out, hanged and beaten alive or electrocuted. Some dogs are thrown into boiling water while they are still alive. Some are purposely slaughtered in front of other dogs, to increase their fear and stress level, to boost the adrenaline and thus enhance the flavor in their meat. Actual physical torture and bleeding them out slowly are routine methods used for this purpose.
The suffering of the dogs is heart wrenching. Dogs bred for the meat trade possibly will spend their entire lives in wire cages. They are often caged tightly and kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. They do not feel what walking on the ground is like, they don’t get to mingle with other dogs other than those cramped in cages beside them; they suffer summer heat and freezing winters outdoors; they are not given water or suitable food; they get no exercise; some even have their eardrums burst to prevent them from barking – every natural instinct they have is disturbed by the inhumane and tortuous conditions they must live under.
Growth of The Dog Meat Market and The Breeding Industry
Around the world there is mounting concern about the growth of an international dog meat trade. Even as certain countries in Asia including the Philippines and Taiwan have banned the practice of dog eating, dogs and sometimes cats are still used as food animals in many parts of Asia, particularly in Korea, China and Vietnam. Recent evidence shows that the market is expanding with the growth of the dog meat and breeding industry in China.
The growth of the dog meat market has seen an increasing demand for large European breed dogs. However, most westerners are unwilling to supply animals to the market because of their aversion to the practice of eating dogs. This has made acquiring animals difficult and led Chinese businessmen to focus on importing stud dogs only, as breeding stock, to meet the internal needs of the market. The most sought after dogs being Saint Bernards and other large European breeds, such as German Shepherds, Dalmations, Newfoundlands and Leonbergers.
The dog meat trade is becoming increasingly industrialized and is even promoted by the government in some provinces. The 90s saw an increase in large dog farms that raise, slaughter, process and pack the meat for distribution around the country. To keep up with demand dog farms have been springing up around the country and dog breeders have been experimenting with crossing larger foreign breeds with the leaner Mongolian dogs long favored for their meat. The foreign breeds come mostly from Russia. And they are not eaten because purebreds are too valuable and all dogs taste pretty much the same. A pedigree Saint Bernard or Dalmatian costs more than US$1,000. Crossing one of those dogs with a local bitch produces two litters of eight to 10 puppies a year. Each crossbred puppy grows to about 50kg in six months, when it can fetch about 400 yuan, (nearly US$50), half of that profit.
Eating dog just about died out during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, when Red Guards rampaged through the country killing dogs, even those raised for food, because of their stigma as an extravagance of the bourgeoisie. But dog meat is increasingly available now, and its popularity is growing as people become wealthier and their diets diversify: dog meat is one of the most expensive meats available in the country today.
Risk to Human Health
There are significant health risks related with the farming, slaughter and consumption of dogs. Unsanitary conditions in farms present the most favorable conditions for microbes to reproduce. Diseases such as parvo virus, canine distemper and leptospirosis are common and spread like wildfire in dogs whose immune systems are already low and weakened due to the poor health and starvation. The trade and movement of dogs over large areas increase the risk of disease transmission. There are a number of pathogens associated with the dog meat industry; the most recently documented include cholera, rabies, and trichinellosis.
Cholera: Following a Cholera outbreak in Vietnam in 2008 the World Health Organisation’s representative in Vietnam warned that eating dog meat, or other food from outlets that serve it, is linked to a 20-fold increase in the risk of developing the severe acute watery diarrhea commonly caused by the cholera bacterium. In 2009 seven provinces and cities in the northern and central regions had announced patient’s positive for the cholera bacterium. On May 13, the Hanoi Health Department declared it had found the cholera bacterium in five samples of dog meat taken from four slaughterhouses in Ha Dong district. Rabies: Research published in March 2009 in the open access journal PLoS Medicine, reports on two patients admitted to hospital showing signs of rabies infection. Neither patient was thought to have been bitten by a rabid animal in the preceding months. When the researchers investigated whether the patients had come into contact with infected animals, they found that both had been involved in preparing and eating animals that may have been infected.
Culture and Traditions
Culture and tradition should not be excuses for cruelty. The argument that a certain practice is historically part of a culture does not make it acceptable. In fact in Korea, contrary to popular belief, dog eating is a relatively recent phenomenon and has never been a part of a long-standing culinary history as the traders would have us believe. The fabrication of dog and cat meat as an age-old part of Korean cultural heritage is a clever marketing strategy by unscrupulous vendors who are exploiting an easy to produce commodity. People who eat dog meat support several arguments in their favor. They say dogs have been eaten in China for thousands of years. They argue that there are no extra health hazards from eating dog meat, and instead claim that it has “health benefits” because it contains “certain medicinal properties”. In general, they dispute that eating dogs is no different from eating any other animal, and accuse people opposing it of practicing a kind of cultural imperialism based on the practices in their countries.
It is unethical and wrong to separate dogs for meat and dogs for pets in the first place. To say there is a dog especially bred for eating, does not mean that it is different from other dogs in nature. It has the same intelligence and feelings and it will suffer as much as any other dog. The dog-for-meat notion is a cover-up to keep people uninformed. It gives people an excuse not to think about the real issues.
Animal Welfare Laws and Regulations
When talking about animal rights laws, China is behind over 100 countries in the world. In China no animal welfare legislation exists and China doesn’t have laws against animal cruelty, but animals like pandas or tigers that are threatened by extinction are legally protected. Fortunately an animal protection law is now being drafted by a group of leading Chinese law academics for the purpose of promoting public discussion within China with a long term goal of addressing deliberate cruelty to animals. Animal protection organizations, despite some not having government permits, are being founded and people are more willing than they used to be to join them and discuss them in public.
Several Asian countries have now legislated against dog-meat consumption. The more significant problem in countries where bans do exist appears to lie with enforcement issues, for example:
• The Philippine Animal Welfare Act No. 8485, (1998) bans the trading and eating of dog meat. However, animal welfare groups claim that widespread corruption of officials and other agencies means that the law is not enforced.
• Taiwan’s Animal Protection Bill (1988) bans killing dogs for food, but once again the ban is not enforced and there are purportedly around 60 dog meat restaurants throughout Taiwan.
• In 1984 the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare classified dog meat and dog soup as “disgusting foods” and food sanitation laws have also been introduced to ban the manufacturing and selling of dog meat. Restaurant owners caught selling dog meat can have their business licenses removed on their third offence. Despite this framework, the Ministry of Health and Welfare does not enforce the Law so that dog meat restaurants remain common and an illegal dog and cat meat trade continues to flourish. In fact pressure from the dog meat industry and consumers now appears to be pushing the government towards formally backtracking and distinguishing “food dogs” and “pet dogs”.
Education & Awareness
Contrary to public outlook pet keeping is not purely a Western practice. The earliest known reference to Pekingese dogs was in the 8th century Tang Dynasty in China, where they were held sacred for nearly one thousand years, making them the world’s first pet dogs. (Cats were common in China by 500 BC.) Scientific studies have emerged recently that indicate nearly all dogs, from toy poodles to mastiffs, are descended from three female wolves tamed in China 15,000 years ago. Historically, dog eating in China was never widespread, but rather confined to a handful of clans who consumed dog meat for religious reasons.
Today, dogs are increasingly being recognized within China as dependable and even crucial members of family and society. Changing family demographics, such as childless couples and increasing numbers of elderly people living alone, mean that more and more people are turning to dogs for companionship and support. As a result, pet ownership is booming, with just over 150 million pet dogs throughout the nation – one for every nine people. according to the Beijing Kennel Club, pet owners in the city spend more than 500 million RMB on their pets a year. Experts say that the market potential for the “pet economy” could reach a minimum of 15 billion RMB, far exceeding the economic potential of the trade in dog meat. Now dogs are being employed as sniffer dogs at airports and railway stations, they have also become invaluable and cheap in the assistants of law enforcement. Dogs and other companion animals also provide an important financial, as well as emotional, contribution to China.
Modernization in China is increasing at remarkable speed and there is a new awareness of animals, and their welfare pertaining to a new generation of informed and passionate people. What’s more, the media is playing a primary role in the change of people’s attitude. Education and awareness is the key to ending the misery of dogs. There has never been a better opportunity of reaching out, extending the message so that attitudes can change and gradually a new consensus on the goodness of dogs and cats as our friends and helpers – and not food – can emerge and prevail.
What you can Do?
.Some of us may be angered, appalled, disgusted and even disturbed by this feature. Remember everyone is entitled to an opinion! Cultural practices are cultural practices and they vary from civilization to civilization, but it should not be an excuse to cruelty Most of the world views dogs as trusted companions, but in Asia, millions of them are still consumed for meat. If you are an animal lover would like to end dog meat trade or help raise awareness or sign a petition to ban eating of dogs or want to donate to support the cause, feel free to visit the website listed below to learn more about the groups, their cause and what you can do to help.
Animal Asia – http://www.animalsasia.org
International Aid for Korean Animals – http://www.koreananimals.org
Sirius Global Animal Organisation – http://www.siriusgao.org
We at PLC would like to extend our appreciation to the three groups mentioned above for their support and contributions to make
this feature possible. Special thanks to Jill Robinson – founder and CEO of Animal Asia Foundation, Kyenan Kum – founder of International Aid for Korean Animals and Elly Maynard – founder of Sirius Global Animal Organisation.