Media all over the world are abuzz at the announcement that thousands of dogs are to be slaughtered at the Yulin Dog Meat Festival. Pressure is being brought to bear inside China and from abroad in an attempt to end the practice of eating dog meat.
It is easy to have a sentimental, knee-jerk reaction to this (and indeed a racist, xenophobic one), but it is a complex problem and to some extent, a cultural one. It is common knowledge that south east Asian cultures have traditionally consumed dog meat, but so have New Zealanders and the Swiss. Dogs and cats were eaten in times of famine more recently and more closely to home than some would care to consider. Horses were consumed before they were ridden or used as draught animals, and of course, still are. Some of the welfare problems facing our native breeds have occurred because of the cessation of the live meat trade, for instance.
What is of more concern than the consumption of dogs per se is the condition in which the dogs are kept, under which they are slaughtered and the fact that pets are stolen to fuel the trade. There are many people in China bankrupting themselves to buy as many dogs as they can so that they cannot be slaughtered for food, but it is still a drop in the ocean.
What is needed is a major campaign to improve dog welfare in general, including legislation that covers the transporation and slaughtering of dogs so that at least those that are destined for the menu are kept and killed in as humane a condition as can be achieved.
We may never erradicate the consumption of dog meat entirely, but we can at least ensure that dogs suffer as little as possible in the process even if the incentive needs to be that that way they produce healthier food.