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In parts of southeast Asia, most notably Vietnam, dog meat is a traditional food and a delicacy. An estimated five million dogs are slaughtered each year to satisfy growing demand. This trade comes at a significant cost to humans as well as dogs: the unregulated nature of dog trafficking often allows rabies to flourish among the canines, who eventually pass it on to those who eat or otherwise come in contact with them.
However, this may soon stop. This past week, the four nations of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos signed a deal in hopes of gradually ending the transport and sale of dogs for food. Among the measures put into place is a five-year ban on bringing dogs into Vietnam for commercial purposes. This move was not the sole idea of the government, but was spurred on by a united animal welfare front called the Asia Canine Protection Alliance (ACPA).
The ACPA is an international association consisting of four reputable animal groups: Change for Animals Foundation, Humane Society International, Animals Asia, and Soi Dog Foundation. According to Soi Dog, the goal of the partnership is “to end the illegal trade of dogs from Thailand and Laos into Vietnam… by tackling both the supply of dogs from Thailand and Laos and the demand for dogs for consumption in Vietnam.”
Certainly, these groups care deeply about the welfare of these dogs, who are sometimes boiled alive or burnt with blowtorches during the course of their handling. But as upsetting as that sounds, evidence of cruelty is usually not enough to halt entire industries. Often times, the way to get things done in the animal advocacy world is to give welfare concerns an anthropocentric edge. Eating dog meat in certain areas of southeast Asia is as normalized as eating hamburgers is here. And just as many Americans shrug at reports of mistreatment at slaughterhouses, few dog consumers in southeast Asia will be moved by the argument that eating dog is inhumane or morally wrong.
Recognizing this, ACPA decided to reconfigure their concerns to target human health. According to the World Health Organization, dogs are the primary vector for most human rabies deaths. Rabies is an enormous problem in southeast Asia, even reaching epidemic proportions in Vietnam. So this line of argument likely appealed to the four countries who then felt compelled to take stronger action.
This is not the first time southeast Asia has tried to address the dog meat industry. In Thailand, consumption of dog flesh is illegal. All southeast Asian countries prohibit the transportation of dogs for meat across borders without proper paperwork. And still, the trade persists.
It’s pretty difficult to speculate on whether these new governmental efforts will be successful. According to TIME, there is a fear that creating regulations will simply re-route trafficking activities. Also, given that the dog meat industry is incredibly profitable, it’s hard to imagine those involved letting go of their incomes that easily.
For laws or regulations to be effective, there needs to be enforcement. If the laws on the books were already being ignored, it might not be best to get too optimistic just yet. On the other hand, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has made a pledge to be rabies-free by 2020, a goal which is still very far off, but perhaps that encroaching deadline is enough impetus to increase enforcement and curb the trade substantially.