China has officially declared that dogs are companion animals. The statement comes ahead of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, due to take place in June.
Last month, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs published a draft document of the Directory of Genetic Resources of Livestock and Poultry. The document, which lists animals that can be classified as livestock, did not include dogs.
For the first time, the Ministry explained the animals were not included because they are “companion animals.” It has since stated that dogs have a long history of domestication and are not treated as livestock internationally.
The draft was open for public consultation until May 8. The majority of those who participated in this process agreed that dogs should not be classified as livestock. The final version has now been published, again without the inclusion of dogs.
According to the Daily Mail, a spokesperson for the ministry told reporters: “with the progress of the times, humans’ understanding of civilization and dining habits have changed constantly. Some traditional customs about dogs will change too.”
The spokesperson added that more policies regarding dogs would be rolled out in the future. They did not offer any further details.
Activists are hopeful that the Ministry’s announcement will influence China’s cities. Shenzhen and Zhuhai have already passed bans against dog meat.
Wendy Higgins, the director of international media at the Humane Society International (HSI), said in a statement: “This now presents the perfect opportunity for cities across China to act upon the government’s words by protecting dogs and cats from the meat trade thieves and slaughterhouses.”
Yulin Dog Meat Festival
Higgins added that if the Yulin festival—officially titled the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival—goes ahead, “it will appear to be in public defiance of the Ministry of Agriculture’s words.”
Yulin, in Guangxi, southern China hosts the festival every year for the summer solstice. It started in 2009 and runs for a course of ten days. An average of 10,000 to 15,000 dogs are slaughtered during the festival.
“In just a few weeks, the dog slaughterhouses of the city of Yulin will be full with terrified dogs awaiting bludgeoning and butchery for its infamous dog meat festival,” said Higgins.
She continued: “Experience tells us that many of those dogs will be precisely the beloved companions and helpers and service dogs the national government talked about in its statement as being not for food.”
She added that the “bloody” festival does not reflect the “mood or eating habits of the Chinese people.”
According to HSI, less than 20 percent of the Chinese population eat dog meat. A 2017 survey revealed that 72 percent of people in Yulin don’t regularly eat dog meat. Another survey from 2016 found that 64 percent of Chinese citizens want to see an end to the Yulin festival.