Animal rights activists are reporting that the local government in Yulin, China, will be banning the sale of dog meat at the city’s controversial Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in June.
However, officials in Yulin did not confirm the ban when questioned by media outlets, leading some to question whether the purported ban is happening at all.
The annual festival, which involves the sale and consumption of dog and cat meat, has incited protests both within China and internationally. National Geographic reports that in China, young people in particular are opposed to the dog meat trade.
According to Humane Society International and the Duo Duo Project, officials told traders that restaurants, vendors and market traders will be temporarily prohibited from selling dog meat, beginning one week before the June 21 festival. Peter Li, HSI’s China policy specialist, said the ban is set to last until the festival is over and that there’s no evidence the ban includes any restrictions on cat meat.
But city officials would not confirm any ban at all when both The New York Times and the BBC reached out to them. The BBC also reports that “some vendors” told the outlet they hadn’t heard of a ban.
But Humane Society International told HuffPost it is confident in its sources and that it isn’t surprised Yulin officials won’t confirm the ban to the media.
“It’s likely not in [the local government’s] interests to appear to be responding to national or global pressure,” Wendy Higgins, HSI international media director, said in an email. “The contacts in China of HSI and Duo Duo Project have spoken directly with a number of traders, all of whom confirm the ban, and that traders were told to attend a meeting at which the ban was explained.”
So, what would be the point of a ban if officials won’t confirm it?
Li said the likely goal is to prevent activists and journalists from taking gruesome-looking photos of canine carcasses.
“What the authorities are trying to accomplish is not a ban announcement, but the disappearance of slaughtered dog bodies,” he said.
And Higgins said that not formally announcing the ban was a logical strategic move.
“If the ban is a failure, the officials can say ‘what ban?’ because they never confirmed it, and if it is a success, they can say ‘see what we have done’ and hopefully build on it next year until the problem goes away,” she told HuffPost.
In an interview with the BBC, Li said the policy appears to stem from the new Communist Party secretary of Yulin, Mo Gong Ming, who wants to improve the city’s reputation around the world.
Opponents of the Yulin festival often face criticism from those who point out it’s irrational to be more outraged over the slaughter of dogs than the slaughter of less traditionally cute and fuzzy animals like pigs and chickens ― which are killed and eaten in far greater numbers worldwide.
But Li countered that there are specific reasons to oppose the Yulin festival besides the species of animals involved. For one thing, he said, dogs killed in the festival are often stolen pets. Eating dog meat is legal in China (as well as in many U.S. states), but stealing dogs is not.
“Dogs slaughtered for food come from suspicious sources,” he said. “Many are stolen pets and rural guard dogs.” He noted that Chinese activists would protest a beef festival, too, if the animals were stolen cattle.
And Higgins pointed out that many groups, including HSI, that oppose the dog meat festivals also actively fight for the rights of all animals that suffer in the food industry.
“HSI doesn’t shy away from exposing and challenging the suffering of all animals killed for food around the world, including in Western countries such as the U.K. and U.S.,” she said. “Whilst we realize that we can’t stop the suffering of all animals for the food industry overnight, we shouldn’t use the suffering of pigs or chickens in one country as an excuse for inaction to stop the suffering of dogs in another country.”