China's annual dog-meat fair opens; activists hope for last time

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's notorious dog meat festival opened despite a government campaign to improve animal welfare and reduce health risks highlighted by the novel coronavirus outbreak. However, activists are confident that his days are numbered.
The annual 10-day festival in the southwestern city of Yulin usually attracts thousands of visitors, many of whom buy dogs for the pot that are on display in tight cages, but activists said numbers have declined this year.
The government is drafting new laws to ban wildlife trade and protect pets, and activists hope that the festival will take place for the last time this year.
"I hope Yulin will change not only for the benefit of animals, but also for the health and safety of people," said Peter Li, a specialist in Chinese politics at Humane Society International, an animal rights group.
"Allowing mass gatherings to act and consume on behalf of a festival in crowded markets and dog meat restaurants poses a significant public health risk," he said.
The corona virus, believed to come from horseshoe bats before passing on to humans in a market in Wuhan City, has forced China to rethink its relationship with animals, and it has vowed to ban wildlife trading .
In April, Shenzhen was the first city in China to ban dog eating. More are to follow.
The Department of Agriculture also decided to classify dogs as pets rather than cattle, although it remains unclear how the reclassification will affect Yulin's trade.
Zhang Qianqian, an animal rights activist who was in Yulin on Saturday, said it was only a matter of time before the dog meat festival was banned.
"Based on what we understand from our discussions with meat vendors, those responsible have said that eating dog meat will no longer be allowed in the future," she said.
"But the ban on eating dog meat will be difficult and will take time."

(Reporting by David Stanway; Additional reporting by Shanghai Newsroom editor by Robert Birsel)

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