BEIJING - Celebrities including British comedian Ricky Gervais and singer Leona Lewis have shown their support for a campaign against an annual dog meat festival in China where some 10,000 dogs are expected to be killed for their meat.
Their efforts, that include an animal rights campaign launched by Gervais, aim to stop the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in Guangxi province, which is a celebration of the June solstice. Thousands of dogs are traded, killed and then eaten in the home or on the street. Some of them are burnt or boiled alive.
This year's festival is set for June 22.
The dispute over eating dog meat has raged in China for many years and led to violence last year, when protesters went to Yulin and tried to prevent delivery trucks and bought live dogs back. They also took photos of the festival.
On their parts, actors like Gervais and Ian Somerhalder have joined the effort by sharing graphic pictures of dogs being tortured, encouraging followers to sign Change.org petitions calling on the festival to be halted.
Singers Leona Lewis and Richard Marx, among others, also tweeted about the campaign, using the hasthag #StopYuLin2015 to gather support.
Humane Society International (HSI) has launched a petition against the festival, naming a dog saved from the slaughterhouse "Ricky", in honour of the comedian, according to The Independent.
Gervais also released a statement, saying: "My friends at Humane Society International are working tirelessly to end this cruel trade all over Asia, and they desperately need your help.
"I've seen the footage that HSI has captured on video, and it breaks my heart. I will never forget the look of bewilderment and fear on the faces of these poor animals - the dogs and cats await a horrible fate. No animal deserves to be treated like this."
Chinese pop stars, such as Chen Kun and Yang Mi, have also 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 Mr Zheng Zhishan, a programme officer with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "But it is more important to look at the food safety aspect."
Mr 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," Mr Liu said.
Meanwhile, Many dog meat restaurants are no longer to be found in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Guangzhou Daily reported last month.
The number of shops offering the controversial meat has declined sharply, mainly due to tightened regulations concerning animal welfare.
Guangzhou, where eating dog meat has long been a tradition, launched a campaign in March to crack down on illegal dog meat businesses which do not have quarantine certificates.
According to a Ministry of Agriculture regulation issued in 2013, a quarantine certificate, which costs between 200 yuan (S$43) and 300 yuan, is only valid for one dog or cat, meaning dealing in a large number of animals would cost a fortune.
Many restaurants that previously sold a great amount of dog meat could not afford the quarantine tests and shut down.
One well-known local dog meat shop that had been in business since 1963 closed last June and has been replaced by a hardware store.
A woman who lives in a street known for selling dog meat has witnessed the ups and downs. "It used to be packed with customers coming for dog meat. Now people choose not to eat dog with the idea of animal protection. I quit for years," she said.
The Local Food and Drug Administration continually warns of the potential risks in eating unconventional meat. Animals from unidentified sources may carry viruses which can put people's lives in danger.
The collapse of the dog meat business is not only due to tightened supervision but also shows people's changing views toward protecting animals.
A woman surnamed Xiao says she never eats dog and tries her best to persuade others not to. She believes dogs are natural human companions and should never be food on the table.