Cats and dogs off the menu

Cats and dogs off the menu

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New bid to keep cats and dogs off the menu

By Ng Tze-wei and Ivan Zhai

For the first time, new draft animal rights legislation proposed by mainland advocates includes a ban on the selling and eating of dogs and cats.

It suggests that such behaviour be made a criminal offence carrying a maximum 5,000 yuan (HK$5,700) fine and 15 days' detention.

Dr Chang Jiwen, social law researcher at government think tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has spearheaded the drafting of an animal welfare law for 11 years, and launched a 181-clause final draft last September for public consultation.

However, in recent days he has decided to first push forward a shorter and more specific law against the torture of animals to gain more popular support, according to an interview in The Mirror, a Beijing evening paper specialising in legal affairs.

Chang told the paper that over a four-month consultation period he has received a great deal of support. But there were still some residents who could not accept the concept of animal welfare.

He therefore decided to focus on pushing for legislation on torture first, and hoped to be able to pass the draft on to the relevant government department for consideration in April.

In recent years the brutal government culling of stray dogs across the country as a means to combat rabies has attracted growing attention. Video clips online showing the torture of animals - the most infamous being a woman stabbing a cat with her high-heeled shoe - also stirred widespread anger.

Animal rights leaders such as Professor Lu Di of the China Small Animals Protection Association support the latest approach.

The change in strategy is probably also needed since a top official - deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Xin Chunying - said in September that China already had a Wild Animal Protection Law, and avoided answering a question on whether the mainland needed a general law to protect animal rights.

Chang's previous draft animal welfare law included clauses making the torture and indiscriminate killing by the government of animals a crime; prohibiting the feeding of zoo animals with live poultry; and a ban on circus acts such as forcing animals to jump through rings of fire. However, banning the sale and consumption of cats and dogs was included for the first time in the new draft anti-torture law.

"Banning consumption of dogs and cats should not have much impact. Given the improvement in our standard of living, the number of people eating dogs and cats is minimal," Chang said.

In the south, dogs and cats remain a culinary delicacy. Ten million dogs and four million cats are sold on the mainland for consumption every year, according to a survey in 2006 carried out by the Animals Asia Foundation.

Sunshine Fragrant Meat is Guangzhou's best known dog meat restaurant chain. It has served a popular dog casserole since 1963. Secretary general of the Communist Party committee for the chain Gu Xianguang said he opposed the law.

"We only sell meat from dogs raised for consumption, never pets. And farming of such dogs is permitted by the government," he said. "If the law is passed our restaurant will have to close down and 80 people will lose their jobs."

A chef from the restaurant said during winter they could serve up to 40 dogs a night. During summer the number drops to a dozen. Some people buying dog meat at the restaurant said the law probably would not deter them from eating the meat - they would just find other ways to obtain it.

But one man may be greatly disappointed if the law is passed. Staff at the restaurant said North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had ordered takeaway dog through the concierge of his hotel from Sunshine Fragrant Meat during his stay in Guangzhou in January 2006.

Additional reporting by He Huifeng

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