By Luan Xiang, Yuan Suwen
BEIJING, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Most Chinese want an end to the controversial "Yulin Dog Meat Festival", saying it has "harmed China's reputation", according to a poll out Friday.
About 64 percent of the survey group, aged 16 to 50, said they would support a permanent end to the infamous annual event.
It also showed 51.7 percent of the respondents - who included Yulin residents too - wanted the dog meat trade banned completely, while 69.5 percent claimed to have never eaten dog meat.
"The poll shows most people here don't eat dogs," said Qin Xiaona, director of the Capital Animal Welfare Association charity, one of a cluster of animal welfare groups that commissioned the survey.
Yulin, a small town in southwest China's Guangxi region, has become notorious in recent years for its "dog meat festival", a commercial event in which thousands of dogs and cats are slaughtered and eaten.
Local businesses launched the festival - arguing it was a tradition and part of the local culture - in 2009 to promote the remote area to tourists.
"It is embarrassing to us that the world wrongly believes that the brutally cruel Yulin festival is part of Chinese culture," said Qin.
The campaign to end the festival was supported by people around the world who were disgusted at the cruelty involved in the butchering of the animals, she said.
An unprecedented 8 million Chinese voted online in support of lawmaker Zheng Xiaohe's legislative proposal during the National People's Congress in March to ban the illegal dog and cat meat trade.
Last week, a petition to ban the dog slaughter, signed by 11 million people from China and abroad, was presented to the Chinese embassy in London.
A draft law to prohibit and punish cruelty to animals was submitted to China's highest legislature in 2009.
Since then, Tenger, a renowned Inner Mongolia singer and political adviser, has been presenting his proposal to implement the law at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference annual meeting.
His proposal has topped online opinion polls, backed by a growing number of Chinese animal lovers.
A 2015 survey showed an estimated 30 million urban households owned companion animals.
In China's fast expanding cities, senior citizens living alone are increasingly keeping dogs or cats to fend off loneliness.
Angella Zheng, of the International Foundation for Animal Welfare (IFAW), told Xinhua that, contrary to the erroneous impression outside China, most Chinese adore and protect animals.
Despite this, a black market in dog and cat meat, which is responsible for theft and slaughter of pets, is thriving, driven by greed and negligence of the risks, said Zheng.
THEFT AND LIES
"Before discussing whether to eat or not to eat dog, the more important question is: Where do the 10,000 dogs slaughtered daily in Yulin come from? Were they properly vaccinated in accordance with the law? Did the killing of the animals comply with hygiene standards?" asked Zheng.
Gao Guan, vice secretary-general of China Meat Association, told Xinhua that China has no industry breeding dogs for meat.
Liu Lang, head of the Beijing Association of Small Animal Veterinary Medicine, explained in a report that breeding cats or dogs for meat would be impossible due to feed and vaccination costs, which were much higher than for herbivorous livestock.
Moreover, a piglet could grow to slaughter weight in three months, while it takes from 10 to 12 months for a kitten or a puppy to grow to a suitable size, multiplying the breeding costs.
Liu also pointed out that it would not be practical to keep a large group of cats or dogs, because - unlike cattle, sheep, pigs or rabbits - they would turn on each other and fight.
Even if the breeding of dogs and cats could overcome these hurdles, according to China Agricultural University Professor Xia Zhaofei, a pound of dog meat would cost more than 100 yuan (roughly 15.2 USD) at 2014 prices.
A study published by the Animals Asia Foundation showed that from 2011 to 2014, dog meat traded in black markets was priced from 6.50 to 23 yuan per pound.
So where does the meat come from? Research by an investigative expert team at Shandong University indicated the illegal trade had been developing in the shadows for more than two decades and its two main branches had merged into a nationwide network in recent years.
Professor Guo Peng, who led the team, told media that one branch had been active in the northeast, stealing dogs and cats from rural areas, and had expanded over the years to Hebei in the north, Shandong in the east and Henan in central China.
A southern branch had been stealing companion animals from the eastern provinces of Anhui and Zhejiang, central China's Hunan and Hubei, and Sichuan in southwest, to sell in Guangdong and Guangxi. In recent years, investigations revealed the thieves had been stealing dogs and cats from Shandong and Henan - more than 1,000 miles away - to sell in southern centers.
In 2015, a series of investigative reports published by China Youth Daily revealed that so-called dog-for-meat breeding centers in Shandong were a fraud. They purchased dogs from itinerant vendors and sold them at a profit under the deception that the dogs were bred at their facilities.
In trucks carrying stolen dogs or cats, falsified certificates were found, confirming the illegal dog meat trade had evolved into a highly developed industry chain.
TRAGEDIES AND RISKS
News reports on food poisoning from eating dog meat have been common.
Earlier this month, police seized more than 7 tonnes of meat from dogs killed with poison in Nantong, east China's Jiangsu Province. Tests showed the meat contained cyanide.
The police department warned that the amount of the poison, being sufficient to kill dogs, would cause from severe discomfort or death in humans if consumed.
In Fujian Province in December last year, a woman who was seven months pregnant died when she was hit by an arsenic dart intended for her dog.
In 2012, a dog thief accidentally shot and killed his accomplice. The thief was convicted of manslaughter and possessing hazardous substances.
The IFAW Beijing branch hosted a seminar in 2013 with a photographic display of the instruments used in the dog meat trade, including poison, darts, crossbows, metal traps and nets, and showing the miserable conditions of hundreds of animals stuffed inside cages on a truck that carried them across the country, and the barbaric, unhygienic slaughterhouses where untrained workers butchered them.
Animals Asia Foundation published its findings from a four-year probe into the dog meat trade in 2015: "The vast majority of China's dog meat comes from stolen companion animals and strays, and misinformation and illegality are rife at every stage of the industry supply chain."
The research proved that not a single dog farm in the 15 cities in eight provinces and regions investigated across the northern, southern and central China was found with more than 30 grown dogs, and most were said to be purchased rural guard dogs.
The dog meat trade is a serious threat to human health, said Peter Li, of the Humane Society International told Xinhua, after his most recent trip to Yulin, where he had witnessed scenes of brutality rather than festivities.
According to the Ministry of Health, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has the largest incidence of rabies in humans, and Yulin, a small city with a population of 6 million, ranked among China's top ten cities for cases of human rabies.
Chinese law clearly stipulates the circulation of poultry and livestock from unauthorized or unknown origins is illegal, say legal experts.
China has also implemented Animal Epidemic Prevention Law along with other regulations to standardize every step in the husbandry industry, from breeding, slaughtering, transport, processing and trade to the supervision and administration of animal products.
In April 2013, the Ministry of Agriculture required mandatory animal quarantine certification for each animal being transported, which practically bans the production and trade of cat and dog meat.
Jill Robinson, Animal Asia's founder and CEO, said the dog meat trade at every link in the chain was full of lies, illegality and stolen lives. "It is a true crime story," she said.