In a landmark step for animal welfare, Taiwan has outlawed the consumption of dog and cat meat—the first country in Asia to do so.
Anyone who buys or eats the meat can be fined up to $8,200. Back in 1998 Taiwan made it illegal to slaughter dogs and cats and sell their meat, but an underground commercial market persisted. And now Taiwan has now doubled down on punishment: Those who cause deliberate harm to a cat or dog can be fined up to $65,000, and serve two years of jail time—up from a maximum of one year previously.
The consumption of dog meat in East Asian countries has sparked an outcry from the public and animal advocates around the world in recent years, with China’s notorious Lychee and Dog Meat Festival a flashpoint for the fight. The festival, held every June in Yulin, southern China, sees 10,000 dogs killed over a ten-day period. Millions of people have signed petitions calling for the end of the annual event.
Taiwan’s action marks significant progress in the fight against killing dogs and cats for food, a centuries-old East Asian tradition still legal in China, South Korea, and the Philippines. Adam Parascandola, Director of Animal Protection and Crisis Response for Humane Society International, believes Taiwan’s decision is evidence that a long-standing cultural practice doesn’t have to be a roadblock to ending a “cruel and outdated eating habit.”
In fact, while the high-profile nature of the dog meat industry would seem to indicate a widespread and deeply embedded cultural practice—Humane Society International estimates that 30 million dogs are killed annually in Asia—most Chinese people actually don’t eat dog meat. According to a 2015 Animals Asia study, less than a quarter of Chinese in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai had consumed dog meat in the previous two years.
South Korea shows a similar trend away from eating dog meat, especially among young people. Nonetheless, the Animal Welfare Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit animal protection organization, reports that two million dogs are killed in the country annually. As the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics approach, Korea faces increasing pressure to crack down on the industry. In December 2016, authorities called for a gradual end to slaughter practices at Moran Market, in Seoul— the nation’s largest—which sells 80,000 dogs a year. Vendors have so far resisted and are locked in a stalemate with activists and the authorities over the future of the market, which remains in business.
Parascandola believes that Taiwan’s decision puts additional pressure on China and South Korea: “Activists in mainland China will say if Taiwan can do it, then mainland China has no reason not to.”