Photograph by Chinatopix/AP
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In this June 21, 2015, file photo, a man lights a cigarette as a cook roasts dogs at a restaurant in Yulin, China. Critics blame the city's annual dog meat festival for blackening the country's international reputation as well as fueling extreme cruelty to canines and unhygienic food handling practices.

Photograph by Chinatopix/AP

Dog Meat Sales Reportedly Banned at Infamous Festival

Animal advocates express hope that the ban is a “nail in the coffin” for China’s trade in dog and cat meat.

In a dramatic change of course, the infamous annual dog meat festival in Yulin, China, has reportedly been banned from selling dog meat.

Though dogs have been eaten in parts of East Asia for centuries, the ten-day Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in southern China is relatively new. Founded in 2010, the festival has sparked global controversy throughout its short history. Chinese and international animal advocates have condemned the event for slaughtering thousands of dogs each year, many of them stolen pets or strays.

In a May 17 press release, Humane Society International and the advocacy group Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project reported that the city is poised “to prohibit restaurants, street vendors and market traders from selling dog meat at the event.”

The ban, reportedly spearheaded by Mo Gong Ming, Yulin’s newly appointed Party Secretary, will come into force on June 15, one week before the festival’s scheduled June 21 opening. It will be enforced by risk of arrest and fines up to 100,000 yuan ($14,500).

“The Yulin dog meat festival is not over just yet,” said Peter Li, a China policy specialist at Humane Society International, in a statement. “But if this news is true as we hope, it is a really big nail in the coffin for a gruesome event that has come to symbolize China’s crime-fueled dog meat trade.”

In a phone interview, Humane Society International spokesperson Wendy Higgins says that the two organizations independently received news of the ban from Chinese activists and traders at Yulin’s dog meat markets. The groups don’t yet know if the ban will also cover cats, which are also slaughtered at the festival.

Li and Higgins deem it unlikely that traders will try circumventing the ban by giving away free dog meat. “Restaurants have been told to remove the dishes, and as Yulin has always been about commerce rather than culture, I think it's unlikely that traders and restaurant owners would go to the trouble of putting themselves out of pocket,” Higgins says in an email.

The groups haven’t yet seen any written documentation from Yulin’s government confirming the ban. But in a phone interview, Li says that a lack of a paper trail wouldn’t come as a surprise.

In 2014, the Yulin government issued a confidential internal order that forbade Yulin officials from visiting dog-meat restaurants during the festival, in a governmental effort to keep its distance. Within hours, animal-rights advocates including Li had been leaked the memo.

“The government was reportedly furious, but they couldn’t figure out who leaked it,” says Li, who says that the new order was likely spread verbally. “The local officials we talked to in 2015 said that they stopped issuing written documents.”

At press, National Geographic has not been able to independently confirm the reports.

Pups Rescued From Dog Meat Farm Need Adoption Jan. 6, 2015 -  Humane Society International brokered a deal with a farmer near Seoul,  South Korea, in which he will stop raising  dogs for meat and switch to growing crops instead.  On Monday, the first 11 of the 23 saved dogs were brought to the  Animal Welfare League of Alexandria near Washington, D.C., where they will be monitored and eventually made available for adoption.

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Less Appetite for Cruelty

According to Humane Society International, more than 10 million dogs and 4 million cats are killed every year for human consumption in China, but increasingly, the practice has polarized the country.

A 2016 poll found that nearly 52 percent of Chinese, including Yulin residents, want the dog meat trade banned completely, with almost 70 percent claiming never to have eaten dog meat, reports the Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Opposition to dog meat is particularly high among young people.

The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, while organized by private citizens and businesses, is not officially endorsed by the Chinese government, at either the local or national level. Local support is mixed, with some enthusiastically welcoming visitors from out of town and others complaining that it gives their area a bad name.

The sentiments of local critics are echoed by millions of outside petitioners. In June 2016, Chinese and international animal-rights groups presented the Yulin government their largest yet: a petition bearing 11 million signatures from around the world in opposition to the event.

“It's embarrassing to us that the world wrongly believes that the brutally cruel Yulin festival is part of Chinese culture,” said Qin Xiaona, director of the Capital Animal Welfare Association charity, which sponsored the 2016 poll, in a Xinhua interview. “It isn't.”

Lawmakers in the U.S. also have taken notice. In 2016, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) introduced a resolution that condemned the festival and called on China to end the dog meat trade. On January 6, 2017, Hastings reintroduced the resolution, which condemns the festival as “a spectacle of extreme animal cruelty.”