The move follows a total ban on the consumption and trade of dogs and cats in Shenzhen last week. The Humane Society has dubbed the measure a “potential game changer.”
China’s agricultural ministry has just removed dogs from the national list of livestock, and has reclassified dogs as pets. The new set of guidelines comes as part of the broader nationwide crackdown on the wildlife industry after the coronavirus pandemic. The move has been welcomed by conservationists who have long campaigned for greater protection of dogs, but some critics have pointed out that legal loopholes for eating dogs may still exist.
Animal rights groups are praising China following the introduction of a draft law to reclassify dogs as pets, rather than livestock.
“As far as dogs are concerned, along with the progress of human civilisation and the public concern and love for animal protection, dogs have been ‘specialised’ to become companion animals, and internationally are not considered to be livestock, and they will not be regulated as livestock in China,” read a statement issued by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, published on Wednesday.
A notice on the ministry’s website said: “There’s a long history of domesticating dogs, in the past they were used for guarding houses, hunting and herding. Now they are raised as pets, for search and rescue, for aiding the blind and have a closer bond to humans.”
The National Catalogue of Livestock and Poultry Genetic Resources list, has now dropped Dogs from its list reclassified them as pets. The species listed in the directory fall under the jurisdiction of the Animal Husbandry Law, which means it is legal to raise them for food, wool or fur.
Livestock animals are defined as those that can be bred for food, milk, fur, fibre and medicine.
No longer included in the livestock list, the measure means that restrictions on the dog meat trade – the selling of and serving dogs as food – will come. Conservationists hope that this means that a crackdown on the controversial and cruel annual dog meat festival in Yulin city is on the way.
The draft guidelines, which the Humane Society, an international NGO working for animal rights, dubbed a “potential game changer,” have been opened to the public for consultation and define 18 traditional livestock species, including cows, pigs, chickens and camels.
The ministry also listed 13 “special” species that would be exempt from animal trading restrictions, including reindeer, pheasants, alpaca, foxes and ostriches.
The move is part of a series of steps that China has taken to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
China’s animal trade has been blamed as the origin of the coronavirus, as the virus is believed to have originated at a wet market in Wuhan, selling a variety of animals and meat including bats and porcupines and other rare species.
The virus is believed to have originated in horseshoe bats, which then passed the virus to humans through intermediary species, possibly pangolins, which were sold at the market.
Last month, China banned the sale, breeding, trading and consumption of wild animals, citing the possibility that diseases can be spread from animals to people.
Meanwhile, the city of Shenzhen, with a population of almost 13 million, passed a law last week banning the consumption of dogs, cats, and other animals. The move marked the first time a Chinese city has specifically banned dog consumption.
The Humane Society’s international director Wendy Higgins said this was “incredibly encouraging.”
“This is the first time the national government in China has explicitly explained why dogs… are excluded from the official livestock list, stating that these are companion animals and not for eating,” she added.
Dogs are considered a delicacy in some parts of China. The city of Yulin in the Guangxi region holds an annual dog meat festival in June.
The Humane Society estimates that around 10 million dogs are killed each year for the country’s dog meat trade.
While welcoming the move to crack down on restaurants, markets and slaughterhouses that sell dogs for food, conservationists have also pointed out that the reclassification does not explicitly ban the consumption of dogs or raising them for meat, which may put the trade in an unregulated grey area.
The new directory also added 16 new “special species” to the livestock list, including reindeer, alpacas, pheasants, ostriches and foxes. Critics point out that this appears to contradict the nationwide ban on the wildlife trade, and could present itself as yet another loophole to allow certain animals to remain freely traded for food, wool or fur.
Another contradictory policy that emerged over the past few months involved China’s approval of bear bile as a traditional Chinese treatment for coronavirus patients, which has no proven efficacy as a Covid-19 cure.
Experts have reiterated that without a full shutdown of the illicit wildlife trade as well as greater regulation over the wider animal livestock industry, public health dangers will continue to exist and may become deadlier over time.