For almost a decade now, every year in Yulin, China a festival is held. It is held for ten days over the summer solstice and involves the consumption of dog meat. The festival gets a lot of media every year for the horrendous way dogs are treated during the festival. The conversation around the festival raises questions about cultural practices, animal rights, health, and hypocrisy. I am against the festival and many of the practices around it but have found the festival is a small part of a much larger problem. A problem we should not be afraid to challenge or criticize.
In the East dogs have had a different relationship to humans than they have had in the West. In the West dogs have almost always been seen as man’s best friend. Not just companions to keeps us company but partners in survival. Eating dogs in the West is usually the last resort before we start eating each other. While dogs have also served a companion role in the East they have had a more uneven relationship with humans and it has rarely been taboo to consume dog. Dog is seen as a nutritious meat and is believed to provide seasonal health benefits.
Dogs were domesticated in China thousands of years ago. Many breeds had a place in the Imperial Palace and alongside the Emperor. Dogs were prized and cherished. They were also associated with the higher classes of society. This doesn’t mean that dogs were not eaten. They were. But dog meat was a delicacy for the higher classes. Though over time this changed. Dog meat became cheaper and became associated with the lower classes. During the Cultural Revolution the association between pet dogs and high class doomed them. The food shortage at the time exasperated the issue. Tens of thousands of dogs were killed.
Jump to present day we still have a horrendous dog meat trade, which the Yulin Dog Meat Festival is a part of. I was surprised to learn the festival is a recent event. Most sources I looked at stated 2009 or 2010 for the year it started. One source said it started in the 90s and one source defending the festival claimed it is based on a much older tradition. The festival isn’t officially recognized and the government states that it is simply a gathering of likeminded people.
Selling dogs during the festival makes you money. And in an area of China that has economic issues that can mean another day of surviving. Many of the locals who profit from the festival are simply trying to provide for their family. But this doesn’t change the fact that the festival is a small part of the larger meat trade problem in Asia. Many have tried to defend themselves by saying only dogs raised for meat are killed. And that there is a difference between pet dogs and meat dogs. While I was watching the Vice documentary I was struck by how people would say this but then turn around and not live by that maximum. They would treat dogs as if the role between food and pet could change every other minute.
I am not going to argue that dogs cannot be eaten as food. I think that argument is impossible to make, considering all the other animals we eat. And I am not going to argue against eating meat. That argument is beyond the scope of this article and I don’t think I could present a solid enough argument for no meat consumption at the moment. But what I am going to argue is that the Yulin Dog Meat Festival and the larger dog meat trade it is connected to is wrong.
The dog meat trade exists in several Asian countries. In many of the countries, including China there are no bans on consuming dog meat. Though there has been a growing push both within and outside the countries to ban the consumption of dog meat. Worse is the fact that are almost no laws regulating the dog meat trade. No regulations about the treatment or health of the dogs. No quality control. No transparency about where the dogs are coming from.
Because of the lack of regulations there are many health concerns surrounding dog slaughter in the dog meat trade. Slaughters usually take place in unsanitary conditions. Meat can be left out in the open or left on unclean surfaces. There is also no concern for a dog’s health. Many dogs that are slaughtered may have health issues that go on to affect human consumers.
Probably one of the more nefarious aspects of the dog meat trade is despite the claims of those in the dog meat trade there is little to no evidence of large scale farms where dogs are specifically raised for consumption. There are small farms but not enough to cover the majority of dog meat in the trade. The majority of the dogs seem to be kidnapped or strays rounded up. Regardless of where the dogs come from they are treated like shit. They are shoved into confined and unsanitary spaces. Many dogs die of illness during transport. From the moment they are taken they are in an environment of fear. They are often physically neglected and beaten. They can be tortured due to a belief that the adrenaline will make the meat taster better.
I want to underscore the suffering here because the suffering is the problem. It is wrong. One of the biggest push backs whenever criticisms of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival or the dog meat trade comes up is that it’s a different culture and we have no right to judge. My answer is no. The suffering of another creature, human or otherwise, is not up to cultural whims. Causing unnecessary and excessive suffering is wrong.
Many of the dogs are ripped from familiar environments, taken away from their human companions and spend the rest of their days in emotional distress and physical torture before they are brutally killed. It’s not just dog’s lives that are destroyed. Humans lose a companion and if they are in a rural area they also just lost a sense of security. The kidnapping and abuse for the meat trade causes suffering all around.
There is another point I want to address. Every time this issue comes up there is always someone who says, “Well how about the way we treat animals in the West?” Oh the hypocrisy! This sort of comment doesn’t actually achieve anything. I think you would be hard pressed to find among the activists someone who wants to just ignore the way we treat cattle or chickens in the West. The same could be said of those who say we have more human centric issues to worry about. There are a lot of issues in this world. The entirety of the human race doesn’t need to be focused on only one issue at a time. We can fight issues on many fronts. The way we treat other species is a global issue.
The Yulin Dog Meat Festival is a small event. Eating dog meat in China is not common. And some are surprised to learn that some people in their country eat dogs and that there are festivals for the consumption of dog meat. There has been a large push back within the country to fight the dog meat trade. This includes fighting against the Yulin Dog Meat Festival and other festivals that help keep the dog meat trade alive. There is no kindness in the dog meat trade. Only cruelty. There has been a tradition of eating dog but that does not mean we should tolerate a tradition of suffering.
I focused on the dog meat trade because that is what the Yulin Dog Meat Festival is about but there is also a cat meat trade with the same issues as the dog meat trade. If you want to help combat the dog and cat meat trades their are several organizations in different countries working to rescue these abused animals and pushing legislation to ban dog and cat meat. Find one you agree with/find reputable and donate or volunteer if you can.
Works Consulted (Sources Contain Graphic Imagery)