In a newly published list of animals categorized as livestock in China, the country’s agriculture ministry made a surprising announcement tucked away at the bottom of the policy document: dogs are no longer to be treated as mere livestock, but as loyal companions.
“Alongside the development of human civilization and the public’s care toward protecting animals, dogs have now evolved from being traditional livestock to companion animals,” the notice dated April 8 read (link in Chinese), adding that dogs aren’t typically regarded as livestock worldwide.
The official announcement follows on the heels of February’s nationwide ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife in China. The country’s top legislature fast-tracked the enactment of the ban in large part due to widespread suspicions that the Covid-19 outbreak stemmed from a novel coronavirus being transmitted from wild animals to humans. Those suspicions arose because some of the early confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicentre of the country’s outbreak, had exposure to the Huanan seafood wholesale market, where live animals were on sale. In fact, initial diagnostic guidelines (pdf) established by China’s national health commission stipulated that Covid-19 patients needed to have an epidemiological link to Wuhan or a wet market in the city.
Included on the latest list of livestock animals are 13 types of “traditional livestock” such as pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys, and 18 types of “special livestock” such as various kinds of deer, all of which could be raised for the purpose of eating, according to the ministry. The list is “dynamic” and could be widened to include other animals, according to the February decision banning eating of wild animals in China. The ministry is gathering public opinions on the draft document until May 8.
Although Beijing has said that the consumption of wild land animals not included in this list will be banned (link in Chinese), it is unclear whether dogs, which traditionally are not counted as wild animals, would also be protected from this fate after the “upgrade” of its status by the ministry. Calls to the ministry went unanswered, while it did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
However, given the clear classification of dogs as companion animals by the ministry, local governments in China could follow suit to set up regulations banning the consumption of not only wild life, but also pets. Shenzhen, the southern Chinese city bordering Hong Kong, became the first city in the country to ban the eating of cats and dogs, as well as state-protected and other terrestrial wild animals, days before the ministry’s announcement.
Around 10 million dogs and four million cats are estimated to be slaughtered and eaten in China every year, according to Hong Kong-based animal welfare group Animals Asia, but the practice is coming under increasing criticism from the country’s growing ranks of pet lovers. In 2016, a group of dog lovers tried to stop a truck that was carrying 320 dogs headed for a slaughterhouse on a highway in Hebei province. They ended up getting into a fight with the truck driver and causing a massive traffic jam.