Commentary: Doggie daze

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Granted, we need to be sensitive to other countries cultures, even though they often differ greatly from our own.

With our modern emphasis on “diversity,” we’ve learned to appreciate the traditions and norms prevalent elsewhere in the world and to recognize their contributions to a more interesting—if not more ethical—world.

But the latest news from China, which unfortunately provides secondary fodder for vegetarian activists, goes way beyond any level of tolerance or acceptance. Here’s the story:

Despite protests by animal rights activists, a controversial “dog meat festival” will go ahead this week in Yulin, in the Chinese province of Guangxi, which borders Vietnam, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

(By the way, those protests are taking place online, seeing as there are precious few people willing—or able—to travel to China and protest anything in person.)

As the newspaper phrased it, “The annual festival involving savoring the delights of dog meat hotpot, lychees and strong liquor on the Summer Solstice is a cherished tradition among Yulin locals. Thousands of diners are expected to crowd food streets and enjoy the feast. Animal protection activists estimate more than 10,000 dogs are killed during the festival.”

Animal activists said that they are afraid the demand for dog meat during the festival would lead to the abduction of stray dogs or even pets. But according to the newspaper, Chinese officials said that the dogs “processed” during the event are raised by local dog farms.

Summertime, and the doggies are delicious Okay, this entire story just got worse. “Dog farms?” Where dogs are raised for meat? You thought puppy mills were bad. I can’t imagine the conditions on a dog farm, where the animals are simply bred, fed and dead.

A tradition to die for

Efforts to block the festival, which include open letters to the Yulin government, recruitment of celebrities to condemn the practice and even petitioning to the White House, have angered some locals.

One resident told the newspaper she would defend the festival because it was part of the local tradition.

“It’s unfair to call Yulin people brutal only because we have this tradition to eat dog meat,” she said. “People who call us uncivilized and cruel should stop eating meat first.”

The story quoted Du Yufeng, a member of a Sichuan-based animal welfare organization, said she saw slaughtered dogs on sale in several wet markets in Yulin.

“The massive dog killing is going to start very soon, as it usually takes several days for the dog meat dealers to prepare for the one-day festival,” she said.

In response to Yufeng’s open letter asking to cancel the festival, authorities said they would improveinspections—dog meat sellers are required to have official sanitation certificates—and crack down on dog slaughtering in public during this year's festival.

Wow. That’s comforting.

Chinese officials in Zhejiang province cancelled a similar dog meat festival in 2011 following an online protest campaign, according to the South China Morning Post.

I’d be willing to wager my hefty salary that a huge majority of Americans would disapprove of a festival devoted to “the delights of dog meat hotpot.” But you can also predict the way anti-industry activists use the issue of dog meat to connect to their vegetarian campaigning. Consider a typical comment on the story:

“Why are animal rights activists so concerned about a few thousand dogs being consumed when millions of cows, pigs and sheep are slaughtered daily? Seems a bit hypocritical.”

And that would be the attack line activists capitalize on as they expand the outrage over dog meat to all meat.

About the best that can be said about this bizarre story is the hope that maybe some anti-industry activists will devote a lot of time and resources to fighting against this kind of “festival” in China.

It would distract them from trying to marginalize American livestock producers.

And to be honest, it’s a worthwhile cause all by itself.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Idaho  |  June, 20, 2013 at 10:12 AM

So it bothers you when people eat dogs? Tell me, what is the difference between eating a dog and a calf? Other than a cultural utilitarian view of what these animals are, traditionally a dog is a pet in the US with emotional attachments to a human, there is no difference. Your pointless article simply accentuates your hypocrisy regarding meat consumption and does nothing to further the agenda of the meat industry in the US. You actually seem to justify the dog meat festival if it draws the attention of activists away from the US meat industry. Change the word dog to chicken or pork and you would not only approve but would attend the festival. You guys don't seem to get the high stakes of this issue and natter on about how terrible vegetarians are. Anti-animal agriculture is focused on humane issues because it is low hanging fruit. Once that is fully plucked, the next step is an attack on the moral issue: we in the western world eat animals because we want to, not because we have to. This will be a far more difficult challenge, because even as farmers and ranchers can demonstrate humane husbandry practices, the moral question will be be the foundation. Activists may seem short sighted, flitting off to the cruelty du jour, but there is a long road - a generational vision - that animal agriculture is not prepared, or willing, to address. I've been an active participant in animal agriculture for over 40 years and I really think you are being distracted and are doing agriculture no service, with seriously flawed editorials like this one.

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