CHINA - Animal rights activists, lawyers, celebrities and food safety experts are lobbying to stop an upcoming festival that serves dog meat in Yulin, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
The annual festival, slated for June 21, involves eating dog meat hotpot and lychees and drinking strong liquor on the summer solstice. It is a cherished tradition among Yulin residents. Thousands of diners are expected to crowd streets and enjoy the feast.
Animal rights activists estimate that more than 10,000 dogs are killed during the festival, which has angered dog lovers and spurred criticism online.
Chinese pop stars, such as Chen Kun and Yang Mi, have begun protesting the festival on their accounts on Sina Weibo, a popular micro-blogging service.
"Most of the discussion is centred on the emotional or sentimental aspect of eating dogs," said Zheng Zhishan, a programme officer with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "But it is more important to look at the food safety aspect."
Liu Lang, director of the Beijing Small Animal Veterinary Association, said dog meat is not listed in the food quarantine and inspection for supervision, which creates safety risks in the processing and eating of dog meat.
The Ministry of Agriculture issued a quarantine regulation on dogs and cats last year, requiring laboratory quarantine for the animals before they are transported.
"But in practice, this regulation is not well enforced," Liu said.
Liu said the laboratory quarantine would cost 200 yuan to 300 yuan per dog ($31.80 to $47.70).
"Local residents cannot afford that price if all the dogs eaten at the festival went through such a quarantine," he said.
He added that butchers slaughtering dogs could get infected with rabies if the dogs are not properly quarantined, which would put the butchers' lives in danger.
Activists fear that high demand is encouraging the abduction of strays or pets. Officials, however, contend that the canines bred for the dinner table are raised by local dog farms.
An Xiang, an animal rights lawyer in Beijing, said that according to his research and investigations, there are no such dog farms. All the dogs are raised in households and abducted from streets.
The protest has been going on for several years but the festival has never stopped. Last year, activities in protest of the festival included open letters to the Yulin government, recruitment of celebrities to condemn the practice and even a petition to the president of the United States.
Local residents are not happy, either.
"It is our tradition and our right to eat dog meat. If we are cruel and brutal, what about those who eat pork, beef and chicken?" said Wei Zhengde, a 28-year-old Yulin resident.