Yulin (China): A city in southern China went ahead with an annual dog-meat eating festival on Tuesday despite heavy criticism and protests from animal rights activists.
Vendors slaughtered dogs and cooked their meat in dozens of restaurants across the city of Yulin, in an event that has come to symbolize the cruelty and potential for spreading disease associated with the largely unregulated industry.
Activists bought dogs from dealers who had been planning to slaughter them, while local residents complained that outsiders were ruining what they consider a local tradition.
"We came to Yulin to tell people here dogs are our friends. They should not kill dogs in such a cruel way and many of the dogs they killed are pet dogs," said Yang Yuhua, a volunteer from the central city of Chongqing.
An estimated 10 million to 20 million dogs are killed for their meat each year in China, and the Yulin event has become a lightning rod for criticism. Many of the dogs are believed to have been pets stolen from their owners or simply picked up off the street. They are stuffed in cages, and trucked to the city about 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) south of Beijing in the province of Guangxi, often without food or water.
Cats eaten at the festival are subjected to similar ill treatment. The local government has in recent years sought to disassociate itself from the event, forbidding its employees from attending and limiting its size by shutting down some dog markets and slaughter houses.
"The so-called dog-meat eating festival has never been officially recognised by government or by any regulations or laws," said an official reached by telephone at the city government's general office.
"We hold meetings every time before the so-called festival, discussing counter measures such as deploying local police, business and sanitary authorities to inspect and deal with those who sell dogs," said the official, who like many Chinese bureaucrats would give only his surname, Liu, because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
Opponents this year expanded their campaign to the United States, petitioning politicians in San Francisco to pressure their Chinese colleagues into calling for an end to the slaughter.
As many as 10,000 dogs are believed to be killed during the event, which falls around the summer solstice that arrived yesterday this year. Promoters say eating dog meat during the summer helps ward off the heat and maintain a healthy metabolism.
"It's been a tradition for years for us to celebrate the festival. We can't change it simply because they (animal lovers) love dogs," a local resident, who gave only his surname, Huang, told The Associated Press.
"They don't want us to eat dog meat. We eat dog meat to celebrate the festival, but since they've come here, they've ruined our mood completely," Huang said.
As the dog eating festival neared, Chinese social media is full of alerts to the pet owners asking them to protect their pet from dog thieves. However, even in the official media, the event had its supporters as the state-run Global Times carried an article saying that "Dog meat festival shouldn't be canceled forcefully".
"It is understandable that many Westerners oppose eating dog meat. Muslims and Hindus have their own taboos against eating some particular kind of meat, and in their eyes, some Western-style eating habits might be insulting," it said.
"Unfortunately, now westerners are demanding non- westerners change their eating habits, because they think their cultures and feelings deserve more respect than others. Such a condescending attitude is not comfortable," it said.
However, the support for a ban is growing. "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," Xinhua report said.
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 famous 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.