Eating Cats and Dogs Banned in a Second City in China in Wake of COVID-19 Pandemic

A second city in China has permanently banned the consumption of dog and cat meat in a move that has been welcomed by animal rights campaigners. The city of Zhuhai in China's southern Guangdong province follows the example of Shenzhen, which also announced a ban on eating cat and dog meat earlier this month.

In both cities, the bans form part of new, wider food safety measures proposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that also outlaws the human consumption of wild animals. These will come into effect on May 1.

Authorities in Zhuhai appear to have taken their lead from a revised draft "white list" released a few days ago by China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, which states that dogs and other companion animals are not "livestock," state-run China News reported. The white list outlines which animals are allowed for human consumption in China.

According to animal rights group Humane Society International (HSI,) the COVID-19 pandemic has played an important role in the dog and cat meat bans, even though these animals have not been linked to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

"I think certainly the context for these bans is China's revision of its food safety regulations in the wake of COVID-19, that's the basis of the national government statement on the livestock list, and the reason why Shenzhen advanced its wildlife consumption ban," Wendy Higgins, a spokesperson for HSI, told Newsweek.

"But the reason stated by Shenzhen for adding in dogs and cats, even though they are not implicated in coronavirus at all, is specifically in recognition of their special status as companion animals.

"I think something else is also going on here and that is that these cities are using this opportunity to reflect the mood of the majority of the Chinese people, most of whom of course don't eat dogs and cats," she said.

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This photo taken on May 10, 2016 shows dogs at a dog shelter set up by animal activists in Yulin, in China's southern Guangxi region. GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

HSI says that the latest proposals could mark the start of a domino effect of progressive legislation in which more Chinese cities ban the consumption of dog and cat meat, creating the right conditions for a national ban, although Higgins stresses that it is hard to speculate at this point.

"Proposals for national dog and cat meat bans have come and gone in the past, so this is perhaps a new approach that could lead to city by city bans. If we do reach a critical mass of cities, that could in itself encourage a national ban, but it's probably premature to predict that right now," she told Newsweek.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases as of April 15.

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A map showing COVID-19 cases worldwide as of April 15, 2020. Statista

The trade sees an estimated 10 million dogs and 4 million cats—most of which are stolen pets and strays—killed in China. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no clear evidence suggesting that pets such as dogs and cats can spread the virus to humans. However, the dog meat trade is thought to be responsible for spreading rabies and increasing the risk of cholera.

"Zhuhai's ban on dog and cat meat eating is thrilling news for all those in China and around the world who have campaigned for so long to end this brutal trade," Higgins said in a statement. "Now it would seem that in the absence of a national ban, cities are taking matters into their own hands and reflecting the mood of the people.

"This isn't just good news for animal protection, it's also very good news for public health because the dog meat trade poses a significant human health risk, linked to the spread of trichinellosis, cholera and rabies. Rabies has been found in dogs traded for human consumption in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, and is easily spread as thousands of dogs are crammed on slaughter trucks and driven across provincial borders to markets and slaughterhouses," she said.

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