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November 23, 2016

Ending the Yulin dog meat "festival"

Humane Society International

  • Dogs in Yulin. AP Images for HSI

Across China, there are many dog markets and slaughterhouses, but the annual dog meat "festival" in Yulin in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has come to symbolize the immense cruelty of the dog meat trade.

The "Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival" was launched in 2010 by Yulin's dog meat traders as a commercial enterprise to boost their flagging sales. Previously, Yulin city had never known a dog meat festival and there was no established tradition of dog eating there; the traders tried to co-opt the idea of local tradition in order to legitimize the event.

The festival takes place every year on June 21/22 (the summer solstice), and sees thousands of dogs—many, stolen pets still wearing their collars—killed for their meat. Local officials originally endorsed the event, expecting it to attract tourists. Instead, the festival has been a PR disaster for Yulin, earning domestic and international condemnation.

Unbelievably cruel

The festival is a barbaric spectacle, but the dogs’ suffering actually starts much earlier. Thousands are grabbed from the streets, crammed tightly into wire cages and piled onto trucks to be driven for days or weeks. They come from as far as Anhui, Hubei and Henan in Central China, up to 1,500 miles away. Denied food, water and comfort, those dogs stacked at the bottom of the truck become drenched in urine and faeces, while those in the middle can suffocate to death. Others die from illness, dehydration or heatstroke long before they reach their destination.

Uploading and unloading of dogs is violent, with cages routinely hurled up to the truck and smashed down at unloading. Bodily injuries from sharp wire, biting, and rough handling cause further pain.

At the slaughterhouse, they will be beaten to death with metal poles.

HSI has played a leading role in shining a global spotlight on the horrors of the Yulin festival through our media exposés and advocacy work. Our evidence of cruelty has helped to lift this issue to global prominence, including a debate in the U.K. Parliament and the first-ever U.S Congressional Resolution opposing the festival and associated trade. Several legislative proposals for a ban have also been put forward by Chinese policymakers, which we hope to see discussed and furthered.

Making progress

In the face of such horror, achieving change in China can seem frustratingly slow, but progress is definitely being made. Since it began in 2010, the Yulin festival has reduced in size and Yulin authorities are under increasing pressure from both Chinese and international protest.

  • In May 2014, Yulin authorities realized that endorsing the festival was a bad idea and issued an internal warning to all government employees and families not to patronize dog meat restaurants. They distanced themselves from the festival, claiming it was a private business event, and while this claim was of course disingenuous, it indicated an important recognition that the festival had become a liability. A live dog market and two dog slaughter operations were also closed in the city, leading to a drastic reduction in the number of dogs slaughtered that year.
  • In 2015, officials ordered all Yulin restaurants to remove tables from outside their premises and, for the second year running, to reduce dog meat dishes. Big public displays of mass dog meat eating were not visible, indicating a recognition that this is an unacceptable sight and likely to lead to conflict. Yulin’s Dong Kou Market had noticeably fewer dog meat stands compared with previous years. We also believe there was a decline in the number of dogs slaughtered.
  • In 2016, the event was once again muted, and for the first time Yulin police erected roadblock checkpoints to stop trucks loaded with dogs from entering the city. Although these roadblocks were implemented too late to stop many of the trucks, they were a significant gesture.

Through our Chinese partner groups, HSI is urging Yulin authorities to adopt more proactive and decisive steps to crack down on an industry that kills dogs acquired illegally and sells dog and cat meat that breaches food safety regulations. It is no coincidence that Guangxi province is amongst China’s five worst-affected areas for rabies in humans, and Yulin was recently listed in China’s 10 worst-affected cities for human rabies cases.

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