China recognises dogs as ‘companion animals’ in official proposal

China recognises dogs as ‘companion animals’ in ‘game-changer’ proposal that could prevent 10 million dogs from being slaughtered every year for food

  • China’s Ministry of Agriculture has excluded dogs from farm animals in a plan
  • Dogs are ‘companion animals’ and ‘not suitable’ to be treated as livestock, it said 
  • Only official livestock can be bred, raised and traded, according to Chinese law
  • But a worker later said the proposal ‘has nothing to do’ with banning dog meat
  • Experts regard it a ‘game-changer moment’ for the country’s animal protection 

China has excluded dogs from farm animals in a drafted directive, which could see canine meat being barred from the dinner plate across the country.

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said it recognises dogs as ‘companion animals’ and ‘not suitable’ to be managed as livestock in the document released yesterday.

Only the animals officially listed as livestock or poultry can be bred, raised, traded and transported for commercial purposes in China, according to China’s Animal Husbandry Law

This means the proposal can potentially prevent around 10 million dogs being killed for their meat every year in the country.

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said it recognises dogs as 'companion animals' and 'not suitable' to be managed as livestock in a drafted directive. The picture shows butchered dogs being sold at a market in the Chinese city of Yulin at a festival on June 21, 2016

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said it recognises dogs as ‘companion animals’ and ‘not suitable’ to be managed as livestock in a drafted directive. The picture shows butchered dogs being sold at a market in the Chinese city of Yulin at a festival on June 21, 2016

The news comes after the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs on Wednesday published a tentative version of the country’s Directory of Genetic Resources of Livestock and Poultry

But in a sharp turn of the event, a worker from the Ministry denied that the proposal was aimed at banning the eating of dogs.

The unnamed official told Chinese news outlet The Paper the exclusion of dogs in the directory only means they cannot be ‘managed’ as livestock, and ‘it has nothing to do with the eating or breeding of dogs’.

Nonetheless, animal welfare activists are considering the proposal ‘a game-changer moment for animal protection in China’.

The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival is one of the most controversial food festivals in China and sees thousands of dogs cruelly killed, skinned and cooked with blow-torches before being eaten by the locals. The picture shows dog meat being served at the festival on June 21, 2017

The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival is one of the most controversial food festivals in China and sees thousands of dogs cruelly killed, skinned and cooked with blow-torches before being eaten by the locals. The picture shows dog meat being served at the festival on June 21, 2017

Last week, the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen became the first city in China to ban the eating of dogs in the wake of coronavirus pandemic.

In late February, China banned all trade and consumption of wild animals, a practice believed responsible for the global crisis.

The Ministry’s catalogue lists 18 types of ‘traditional livestock’, including pigs, cows, sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, camels, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigeons and quails.

It also covers 13 types of ‘special livestock’, including sika deer, red deer, reindeer, alpacas, guinea fowls, pheasants, partridges, mallards, ostriches, minks, the American red fox, the Arctic fox and raccoon dogs. The last four species can be traded, but not for their meat.

The proposal comes after Shenzhen became the first Chinese city to ban the eating of dogs in the wake of coronavirus. The picture shows a woman and her dog in Shanghai on April 06

The proposal comes after Shenzhen became the first Chinese city to ban the eating of dogs in the wake of coronavirus. The picture shows a woman and her dog in Shanghai on April 06

In a separate explanation sheet, the Ministry said it drafted the directory to show its support of the wild animal ban by Beijing.

In particular, it stressed the importance of treating dogs as companion animals, not livestock.

The authority said: ‘In the wake of the progress of human civilisation and the attention the public give to animal protection, dogs have evolved from livestock to companion animals and are generally not considered as livestock internationally.

‘It is not suitable for our country to list (them) as livestock for management purpose.’

The Ministry's list has 31 types of livestock, which can be bred, raised, traded and transported for commercial purposes in China. It says dogs are 'not suitable' to be managed as livestock

The Ministry’s list has 31 types of livestock, which can be bred, raised, traded and transported for commercial purposes in China. It says dogs are ‘not suitable’ to be managed as livestock

The Ministry said it compiled the list after seeking advice from 36 organs of the central government, 31 regional governments as well as experts from institutes and universities.

It is seeking feedback from the public on the proposal until May 8.

Animal welfare groups have expressed their support for the proposal. 

Charity organisation Humane Society International has called it a ‘game-changer’.

Its spokesperson Wendy Higgins said: ‘Although this draft proposal isn’t in itself a ban, it could signal a game-changer moment for animal protection in China. 

‘Coming so soon after Shenzhen’s dog and cat meat ban, this is the first time the national government in China has explicitly explained why dogs and cats are excluded from the official livestock list, stating that these are companion animals and not for eating. 

A woman with her pet dog, both wearing face masks, is pictured walking on street amid the novel coronavirus pandemic in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang on March 6

A woman with her pet dog, both wearing face masks, is pictured walking on street amid the novel coronavirus pandemic in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang on March 6

Activists and legal experts have in the past proposed animal protection law to ban the eating of dogs and cats. The earliest such campaigns can be traced back to 2009.

What is the Yulin Dog Meat Festival?

Some claim that the consumption of dog meat has been observed in Guangxi Province, China, for hundreds of years.

However, the activity was not promoted and encouraged until around 30 years ago – first by the dog meat traders, then by the Yulin government for driving tourism.

The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival can be traced back to 2009.  

The event has drawn waves of criticism from media and animal lovers, with influential figures leading campaigns around the world in a bid to stop it.

The local government has stopped organising the festival under pressure, as it is understood, but vendors continue selling dog meat and residents carry on eating it on the summer solstice. 

But so far, no national legislation has been released to officially forbid people from consuming pets.

The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival is one of the most controversial food festivals in China and sees thousands of dogs cruelly killed, skinned and cooked with blow-torches before being eaten by the locals. 

Explaining the significance of the proposal, Ms Higgins said: ‘We have never had the national government say that before. 

‘Dogs and cats have never been on the livestock list, so that’s not new, but an explicit explanation for why they are not listed has never been seen before and I do think that could encourage other cities after Shenzhen to progress bans.   

PETA Asia has billed the proposal ‘a significant step in the right direction’ for the Chinese leaders.

A spokesperson said: ‘After Shenzhen’s ban on eating companion animals, it’s more excited to hear voice from China authority discussing the animal right of companion animals.’ 

He added: ‘Right now China is taking a significant step in the right direction. 

‘For decades, PETA Asia has released investigations showing how dogs and cats in China are at risk from all sorts of horrors – from the dog-meat trade and festival to even being bludgeoned and killed for the leather industry.’ 

‘We hope in the future China will extend the discussion to more animals as the vegan population there is increasing rapidly.’

No law prevents people from abusing animals in China

Chinese activists have been urging for a law to protect the welfare of animals for years

Chinese activists have been urging for a law to protect the welfare of animals for years

While China has laws to safeguard land-based and aquatic wildlife, it currently lacks legislation to protect animal welfare or to prevent cruelty towards animals.

In September 2009, animal rights activists and legal experts began circulating a draft Law on the Protection of Animals and in 2010, a draft Law on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for the State Council’s consideration, according to Human Rights in China, a Chinese non-governmental organisation based in New York.

The draft proposes a fine of up to 6,000 yuan (£693) and two weeks’ detention for those found guilty of animal cruelty, according to China Daily. However till this day, no progress has been made.

While the country’s first ever legislation protecting animal welfare has yet to be adopted, the increasing cases of animal abandonment and serious cruelty towards animals such as killing of dogs and burning of cats have led to serious resentment within society. 

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