Earlier this year, controversial live animal meat markets were banned in some parts of China in response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, many of them still continue to operate in some regions despite the heightened concern. Most notably, the country's annual dog meat fair is still happening, and is set to begin any day now.
Peter Li, policy specialist with the Humane Society International in China, an animal rights group, says he hopes that this is the final year that the festival is able to take place.
"I do hope Yulin will change not only for the sake of the animals but also for the health and safety of its people. Allowing mass gatherings to trade in and consume dog meat in crowded markets and restaurants in the name of a festival poses a significant public health risk," Li told the Jakarta Post.
The agriculture ministry also decided to classify dogs as pets rather than livestock, so it is unclear if this classification will still allow the practice to continue.
The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, sometimes called the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, takes place every year in Yulin, Guangxi, during the summer solstice. The festival began in 2009 and lasts for about ten days. It is estimated that thousands of dogs are consumed at the festival each year.
In the early days of the festival, it was reported that roughly 10,000 dogs had been consumed each year, but since 2015 it is said that this number has decreased to about 1,000.
The festival organizers claim that the dogs are killed humanely, and say that they have mostly cleaned up their act since 2015, when the event became tarnished with global controversy. However, animal rights activists disagree.
Throughout the festival, dogs are carried around in wooden crates and metal cages and are taken to be slaughtered and cooked by festival attendees. A witness also once claimed that some of the dogs that were being eaten at the festival appeared to be stolen household pets, judging by their collars.
In 2016, 1,000 dogs were rescued from the festival by Humane Society International. Then, a year later, in 2017, another 1,000 dogs were saved by Chinese activists.
In 2016, millions of Chinese citizens voted in support of a legislative proposal by Zhen Xiaohe, a deputy to the National People's Congress of China, to ban the dog meat trade. Also that year, a petition circulated by Chinese activists gathered over 11 million signatures, calling on the government to ban the festival.
Recent reports have also suggested that the majority of Chinese citizens disapprove of the festival. Furthermore, Chinese celebrities such as Fan Bingbing, Chen Kun, Sun Li, and Yang Mi have also publicly expressed a distaste for the event.
CHINESE CELEBRITIES ARE SPEAKING OUT AGAINST THE CRUEL “YULIN DOG MEAT FESTIVAL”!
Change is coming from within!https://t.co/E4ayU74w4A
— CFAF (@CFAF_org) June 21, 2020
Still, the event continues to take place every year, much to the dismay of local and international activists. Local activists in China now target the event every year with direct action, in hopes of liberating animals from captivity and their horrific fate. Experts estimate that there is a risk to human health as well, considering that many of the animals who have been rescued are infected with a variety of diseases as a result of the conditions that they are kept in.
Warning: the video below is very graphic.