Forbes: Why China’s Yulin Dog Meat Festival Won’t Be Cancelled This Year After All

From Forbes.com

China’s most controversial celebration of food, the Lychee and Dog Meat festival in the city of Yulin, was widely reported last month to have been cancelled this year after multiple animal rights organizations claimed the local government was planning a ban on dog meat sales in the week leading up to the June event.

But reports of the festival’s demise, or even a sanction on dog meat sales that could negatively impact the festival, appear to be largely unfounded.

“We have spoken with several people working within the mayor’s office, the food and drug administration and the municipal building and no one seems aware of a Yulin festival ban,” said Jason Baker, Vice President of International Campaigns at PETA.

The festival faces negative press every year, with widespread condemnation from dog lovers worldwide. But in May, animal rights organizations Duo Duo and Humane Society International sensed a breakthrough when they released press releases claiming government officials had said they intended to implement a ban on dog meat in markets, streets and restaurants.

This followed a particularly strong backlash in 2016; a petition bearing 11 million signatures that called for the end of the festival was delivered to the Yulin government, while a celebrity PSA video starring Matt Damon and Rooney Mara that decried the event went viral.

However, in the lead up to the festival — due to take place on June 23 — activists who had made a recent trip to Yulin said there was no indication that a government intervention would occur.

“On May 29, I had a sit down meeting with officials in the Yulin government,” said Marc Ching, founder of animal rights organization Animal Hope and Wellness. He said he was told “there is no ban on dog meat sales during the festival as some animal rights groups have claimed.”

Stolen pets

According to Ching, the import of dogs has already started to the small city in the southern province of Guangxi — with stolen pets likely to be among them.

“Our ground team has already spotted trucks carrying stolen dogs entering the city,” said Ching, who will also be working during the festival to identify illegally sourced dogs protected under Chinese law.

“We will stop trucks, scanning the dogs for microchips — our foundation has microchipped thousands of dogs in the last few weeks in dog meat stealing areas — hoping to find stolen dogs on board the trucks as we intercept them. [We’ll be] asking police to enforce the law, theft of stolen property.”

The widespread misperception that the event would be cancelled is not uncommon, according to PETA’s Baker.

“Perhaps someone knows something that we don’t, but [we] suspect this is simply another rumor similar to last year, in which several media reports announced the festival was cancelled,” he said.

Ching, meanwhile, claimed Yulin government officials chalked this year’s rumors up to dishonest charity groups seeking public donations, and described the dog meat ban as a “ploy to discredit the Chinese government.”

One official, who declined to give his name, told FORBES the dog meat festival was a small event privately organized by individuals and that media reports otherwise were simply “hype.”

Millions eaten globally

Around 10,000 dogs are slaughtered at the festival every year. An estimated 30 million dogs are eaten annually worldwide, according to Humane Society International.

Supporters of the festival, which started informally among Yulin restaurant owners in the late 90s, argue that eating dog is a cultural tradition in Asia, where dog meat has traditionally been used for centuries. They also believe the consumption of dog meat is no different to other types of more common animal meat, such as pork and beef, and is a matter of cultural relativism.

But critics say the festival is unnecessarily inhumane for dogs. Some believe tortured dogs will provide better meat, so conditions with which dogs are transported and slaughtered are often poor with little oversight. Many of the dogs are unvaccinated and rabies is a major concern. There have also been accusations that some vendors even steal unattended family pets in a bid to meet the demand — and the increasingly high prices — for dog meat at the festival.

Despite worldwide opposition to the practice, confusing media reports about the fate of the festival may have worked in its favor this year.

“Because of the fabrication and false news spread by media and certain animal rights groups, this is the first year that the people have become silent. It is the pressure by the people that brings about change,” said Ching.

“The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is still happening, whether or not you choose to believe it.”