We condemn China’s dog eating, but ignore calf cruelty

Originally published at stuff.co.nz

The annual Lychee and Dog Meat Festival (21- 30 June), is currently in full festive swing in Yulin, Guangxi, China.

It is widely reviled among those from the West, who do not consider eating dog to be the done thing at all. And with good reason! During the summer solstice, about 10,000 to 15,000 dogs are paraded in steel and wooden crates, killed, cooked and eaten along with the lychees. They say it helps festival-goers to cope with the summer heat.

It’s safe to say that no travel agents in Western countries are using this festival as a draw card for tourists. The dog in the West is considered ‘man’s best friend’, and has the cultural privilege of being a ‘companion’. You just don’t eat your friends, especially not your best one. For most in the West, this oversteps the bounds of acceptability.

But in China, dog meat is not considered a cultural perversity. Rather it is given the same status the West gives to ‘meat animals’ such as pigs, bovines and chickens. It has, in other words, the rather dubious status of ‘yummy’.

The Humane Society International and other animal welfare and rights groups are outraged and have set up online petitions to try and end this cruelty. I am an animal rights activist and I stand right beside them.

But I also stand beside my animal rights colleagues at regular slaughter house protests in New Zealand. I do this in order to demonstrate my outrage at cruelty toward other species routinely killed in order to satisfy our own cultural food lust. There is cultural hypocrisy in decrying the killing of dogs in Yulin, while resting all our faith in the myth of ‘humane slaughter’ and ‘high animal welfare standards’ in the West.

Yes, I know that there are abuses in this festival that we don’t like. As Animals Australia declares, the dogs are, “[f]orced to travel long distances and crammed into crowded wire cages, the dogs languish without food or water as they await their fate. They watch on as those before them have their throats slit. Many are reportedly beaten — even burned or boiled alive”.

This description reminds me of the fate of bobby calves in New Zealand as demonstrated by the bobby calf cruelty expose on Sunday Show documentary in November last year. They may not have been boiled to death, but they were beaten. The new regulations by MPI don’t offer much hope either.

Currently, even when ‘best practice’ is followed, young calves can legally be required to travel up to 12 hours to their deaths and go for 24 hours without food. In short, there is no guarantee your food got to your plate without intense and horrific suffering.

Westerners need to think about the cultural biases employed when petitioning to have the Yulin dog Festival shut down. Just because the animal is a dog, does his/ her life matter more than a calf? There is sameness beneath the obvious differences; in many ways a dog is a cow is a human.

As scientist Marc Beckoff has demonstrated, both humans and animals share the same capacity for joy, sadness, hope, and pain. The idea that some species matter more than others, and that animals are ‘beneath us’ are cultural ideologies only. And they serve to justify the continued exploitation of animals.

It’s time we faced the truth as a society and stopped clinging tight to cultural myths about ‘humane slaughter’.

There is abuse in animal agriculture and the dog meat festival alike. We just need to take the cultural blinders off.

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