Shenzhen is set to become the first city in mainland China to ban the eating of dogs and cats, if a draft regulation released by the municipal government in a wider push to restrict the consumption of wild animals is approved.
On Monday, China’s National People’s Congress issued an order to ban all consumption of wild animal meat and further restrict the wildlife trade nationwide. The measures are expected to be enshrined in the country’s wildlife protection law later this year.
The ban is a swift response to the Covid-19 outbreak, thought to have originated in wildlife sold at a market in Wuhan, Hubei province in early December.
However, the Shenzhen government’s potential ban on dog and cat meat is framed not as part of an effort to reduce disease transmission, but as an aspect of the special relationship between people and pets, which it has called the “consensus of all human civilisation”.
“Shenzhen might just be able to do it, as it is a progressive city in many ways,” said Deborah Cao, a professor at Griffith University in Australia and expert on animal protection in China. “I really hope so.”
Consumption of dog and cat meat is most common in Shenzhen’s home province of Guangdong, neighbouring Guangxi, and parts of north-east China, though it is not universally practised across the country and has become less acceptable over time. Taiwan outlawed the consumption of dog and cat meat in 2017.
“Dog eating has become increasingly controversial in China, with frequent violent clashes between dog thieves and angry dog owners,” said Wendy Higgins, director of international media at Humane Society International (HSI).
“There is a growing and vocal Chinese opposition to the dog and cat meat trade, and young people in China are far more likely to think of dogs as companions than cuisine,” she said.
The draft regulation is now in a public comment phase running until 5 March and no timeline has been given for the final determination.
If the ban goes through, other animals identified as potentially carrying disease – such as turtles, snakes, some birds and insects – could be included on a list of prohibited animals for consumption in line with national rules that are expected in the coming months.
Under the Shenzhen ban, fines for serving banned animals at restaurants would range from 20,000 to 200,000 yuan (£2,200–£22,000).
“The vast majority of dogs caught up in the trade in China are stolen pets and strays snatched from the streets,” Higgins said. “After being stolen or snatched, the animals are crammed in small cages in their hundreds, unable to move, and piled on the back of trucks, packed so tightly they can break limbs.”
Animal protection groups have long been concerned with practices used in the dog meat trade, from rearing and theft to transport and slaughter.