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Dog meat festival kicks off in China despite COVID-19 spike

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SOUTHERN China comes alive in a controversial dog meat festival with volunteers at a Beijing dog shelter handing out treats to dozens of rescued animals.

  The annual event in Yulin city always provokes outrage from animal rights activists, but this year, they hope the coronavirus epidemic will be the death knell of a tradition they see as cruel.

According to founder, No Dogs Left Behind Organisation, Jeffrey Bari, it is “inhumane and barbaric to keep around 200 canines in large wire enclosures on the outskirts of the Chinese capital and re-homes them.”

Dog meat which  is traditionally believed to be good for the health in certain parts of China, has suffered steady decline recently as more and more affluent urban dwellers choose to keep the animals as pets.

The outbreak of COVID-19 further reduced the appetite for dog meat after the disease was linked to a market in the central city of Wuhan selling animals for food. Credible source says.

  Amid growing concerns about hygiene, China has fast-tracked laws banning the consumption and trade of wildlife.

While the law does not apply to dog meat, Shenzhen and Zhuhai, southern cities not far from Yulin banned the consumption of dogs in April; becoming the first cities in China to do so.

And last month the agriculture ministry reclassified dogs as companion animals, not livestock, though it did not explicitly prohibit eating them.

Activists save hundreds of dogs every year by raiding slaughterhouses and intercepting trucks. They say traders steal pets and strays and transport them long distances, mostly to the country’s south.

“You feel a kind of achievement because you’ve changed some dog’s life,” said Ling, who volunteers at the centre.

  Despite low turn out at this year’s event, restaurant workers involved in the week-long ceremony has swiftly renamed it “the Yulin Summer Solstice Festival”, according to  AFP report.

  AFP quotes a dog meat restaurant worker, Chen to have said work would open as normal this festival without any special events or pricing like in past years in his restaurant.

Some posts on the Chinese social network Weibo called for the festival to be cancelled entirely after COVID-19 and a recent fresh outbreak of the disease in Beijing linked to a wholesale food market intensified the call.

  “Is it not enough that (the festival) is infamous throughout the world? Where will food safety become a reality? Stop this damn festival at once,” one user tweeted.

  Experts point to a shift in public attitudes towards dog meat consumption and food safety in the wake of the virus.

A proposal for China’s first nationwide law banning animal cruelty received wide public support during the annual parliamentary session in May, while a viral video of a Chinese university student torturing a cat sparked mass public outcry in April.

  Chen said neither police nor the government had ordered his restaurant to stop selling dog meat as a result of the animal’s reclassification as pets.

“I would say that (the rule) impacted the rest of the country and people were talking about it, but I did not see it having an immediate impact on the dog meat trade in Yulin.” Animal rights group Humane Society International, Peter Li said.

  Despite the efforts of activists and concerns about hygiene, the Yulin event has persisted with the local government’s tacit permission.

“Most of the activities related to the sale of dog meat there are in violation of existing Chinese food safety regulations,” said Deborah CaoX

  But she said “existing food safety laws in China are not enforced in most instances” and there is “no accountability.”

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