Every year since 2010, thousands of dogs have been killed and eaten over the course of ten days during the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, Guangxi, China—and not without significant international controversy.
Though social media campaigns have been successful in bringing the number of dogs killed (and typically served with lychee fruit) down from 10,000 to 1,000, the festival has continued to cause outcry from civilians and animal welfare groups alike.
But this year, the number of dogs served at the festival will be brought down to zero. Humane Society International (HSI) and Duo Duo Animal Welfare Project have each issued press releases indicating that dog meat sales will be banned at the 2017 incarnation of the festival.
HSI has said that it "learned from sources" that the Yulin government is "set to ban restaurants, street vendors, and market traders from selling dog meat" at the festival. Last year, the local government banned the killing of dogs in the streets, which had previously been a common sight at the festival.
"The government order to local dog meat traders announcing this change comes just weeks before the annual summer festival, where traders deliver frightened and dehydrated dogs by the thousands for local butchers to kill and dismember," Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post, adding that while the ban appears to be temporary at this point, "it is nonetheless an extraordinarily hopeful sign that Yulin will one day soon consign dog eating to the history books."
Andrea Gung, executive director of Duo Duo Project, gave credit to Yulin's new party secretary Mo Gong Ming for his "his progressive and visionary leadership" in spearheading the ban on dog meat, which will be punishable by fine or prison time. HSI and Duo Duo are also hoping that the temporary ban will be made permanent.
However, there remains some chatter that the ban might not be enforced. According to the BBC, some vendors say that they've heard nothing about a ban, and locals have been surprised by reports that have been circulated in the media before being announced within the community. The BBC also notes that talk of the ban isn't being discussed in Chinese media at this point in time.
Peter Li, HSI's China policy specialist, asserts that concrete measures have been taken and local vendors are aware of the penalties in place, even though the ban was not announced publicly. "The Yulin authorities understandably would not announce the temporary ban for fear that they would be challenged by the media or public who would ask 'Why temporary ban?' and 'Why not make it permanent?'" Li explained to MUNCHIES.
What's more, he says, is that media reports of locals not being aware of the ban were probably caused by the fact that the ban was not announced publicly, and that authorities chose to deal directly with vendors.
"Sources in Yulin who talked to the dog meat street vendors confirmed two days ago and last night at our request that the Yulin authorities through their officials summoned the vendors together and told them to stop selling dog meat on June 15 until after the 'festival,'" he said, adding that the best way to deal with this problem was a local level. "Asking the question in the right way and in local dialect can produce the right answers. When people ask the vendors in mandarin Chinese, the vendors become vigilant. The authorities could have told them to keep quiet about the government order. The vendors could have been warned against sharing the info with anybody who speaks Mandarin, a likely 'dog lover' or with a foreigner or journalist.'
As for the efficacy of the new regulations, Li is confident. "This 'ban' carries penalties for violators, a new thing never seen in the past. The vendors said that they would be fined between 50,000 to 100,000 yuan if caught selling dog meat during the 'festival' or detention up to three months. If these were the measures [in place to make sure that dog meat will not be served], they look pretty scary."
Though meat traders claim that eating dog is a "local tradition" and a cure for sexual impotence, the festival has only been around since 2010 and there is little proof of the latter claim. Recent estimates suggest that as little as 5 percent of Chinese citizens regularly eat dog meat. Nearly 70 percent of Chinese people have never tried it at all—and it sounds like that number will only grow.