Yulin dog meat festival begins despite rumours of ban

image copyrightAFP
image captionThe tradition of eating dog meat dates back some 500 years in China

A controversial dog meat festival has begun in the Chinese city of Yulin, despite earlier reports it had been cancelled or toned down this year.

The Lychee and Dog Meat festival takes place annually in Guangxi province.

Earlier this year, US campaigners claimed that vendors had been told by authorities not to sell dog meat.

But stall holders had told the BBC they had heard nothing about this from officials. On 15 May, city officials confirmed there was no ban.

Is dog meat still for sale?

Yes. On Wednesday, reports from Yulin said dead dogs could be seen hanging from meat hooks at stalls in Dongkou market, the biggest in the city.

There were also reports of a heavy police presence on the streets.

One activist in the city told the BBC she was prevented by police from entering the Dashichang market where she believed live dogs were on sale.

image copyrightAFP
image captionEating dogs is a controversial tradition in China

In previous years there have been scuffles between stall owners and activists trying to rescue the dogs slated for slaughter.

The city of Yulin is not the biggest dog meat consumer in Guangxi province though. It is only since the festival started around 10 years ago that the city received national and international attention.

What's wrong with dog for dinner?

It is all about accusations of animal cruelty and changes in attitudes to dogs in China.

Residents and vendors say the dogs are killed in a humane way and that eating them is no more or less cruel than consuming pork, beef or chicken.

Eating dog is an old tradition in China, South Korea and some other Asian countries. Those in favour of it are upset by what they say is foreigners interfering with local traditions.

In Chinese culture dog meat is said to be beneficial during the hot summer months.

Even many who do not eat dog defend the practice as long as the animals are not stolen or killed in an inhumane way.

image copyrightAFP
image captionAs the number of pet dogs grows, so does opposition to eating dog meat

But critics say the dogs are transported from other cities in small, cramped cages ahead of the festival and brutally killed. Activists also allege many of the dogs are stolen pets.

Protests against the festival come both from abroad and from within China. The number of pet dogs in the country has skyrocketed in recent years with 62 million registered canine companions.

This has gradually changed many people's opinion on eating dog meat.

Why the confusion this year?

In May, US activists had claimed there was a ban on the sale of dog meat this year. This was not the case.

The Yulin government has repeatedly said that it does not officially organise the festival so cannot prohibit it. Eating dogs is not illegal in China.

image copyrightAFP
image captionCity authorities are unhappy about the negative press the festival brings

The local government is unhappy though about the widespread annual media coverage.

In 2016, they banned the slaughter of dogs in public in anticipation of protests.

This year, reports said there was less public slaughtering taking place, though the scale of the event was not immediately clear.

Activists estimate that in peak years, about 10,000 dogs and cats were killed and eaten during the 10-day festival.

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