Conservation news

China releases list of animals to be farmed after COVID-19

  • The Chinese government released a draft list of animals that can be farmed for meat and fur, including domesticated animals like pigs, cattle, and chickens, as well as “special livestock” like reindeer, alpacas and ostriches.
  • The list also specified that dogs should be classified as companion animals, rather than livestock, which is a big victory for animal advocacy.
  • The trade and consumption of wildlife animals has been banned in China since February, but experts worry the trade will continue in some capacity.

The Chinese government has published a draft list of animals that can be farmed — for meat and for fur — as economic activity in the country slowly resumes in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The list, compiled by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, is available to read online and open to public comment in China.

The list, published April 9, includes domesticated animals such as pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens, which are already farmed in great numbers in China. For instance, in 2018, China farmed more than 10 billion chickens and more than 684 million pigs, according to data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Pigs being farmed in China. Image by Kelly Guerin / We Animals.

It also has a category for “special livestock,” including non-domesticated animals like reindeer, alpacas, guinea fowls, ostriches, and emus, which can be farmed for meat, as well as mink, silver fox, arctic fox, and raccoon dog, which can be farmed for fur. The inclusion of these animals is a departure from China’s previous lists, Peter Li, China policy specialist at Humane Society International (HSI), told Mongabay in an email — and this has him concerned.

“Including fur and wild animals in the livestock list is a bad idea [because] these animals would no longer be considered wild animals,” Li said. “Chinese animal protection groups and international NGOs including HSI call on the Chinese government to get all the wild animals and fur animals out of the list.”

Caged dogs bound for the meat trade in China. Image by Guangyuan Boai Animal Protection Group.

One of the most surprising parts of this notice is the ministry’s designation of dogs as companion animals, despite the fact that dogs are regularly slaughtered for meat in some parts of China.

“Apparently, the Chinese government does not think dogs are livestock, and instead calls them ‘companion animals’ for the first time by China’s national government since 1949 when the Chinese Communists took power,” Li said. “The fact that dogs are not included in the List represented a victory for the animal lovers and activists in China.”

Caged dogs sit on the side of a road in China, waiting to be transferred to a slaughterhouse in a narrow alley. Image by AP for HSI.

Wild-caught animals, such as bats and pangolins, which are often sold for meat and body parts at wildlife markets in China — albeit illegally — were not included in the list since they are not captively born and bred.

“I think this list would be aiming to exclude species not on the list from being considered as livestock, so separate law enforcement measures would be (and already are) required to stop illegal trade,” Claire Bass, executive director of HSI UK, told Mongabay in an email.

The list will be finalized in May, although it will not translate directly into law, Li said.

A wet market in Anhui. China. Image by Kelly Guerin /We Animals

“It takes separate laws, say a law for outlawing dog meat consumption, to make the list meaningful,” he said. ​”Until the Chinese government outlaws cat and dog meat consumption, it would continue to happen. And, of course, even if it is outlawed, there will always be criminal-minded traders who would do it in defiance of the law and be prosecuted.”

What isn’t immediately clear is if the trade and slaughter of imported wild animals will be authorized in China in the near future. The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus is believed to have originated in “wet markets” — wildlife markets that sell dead and alive animals or animal parts — in the city of Wuhan, which led the Chinese government to announce a total ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals in February. While the ban is technically still in place, experts worry the markets could reopen in the future, or that the wildlife trade will simply go underground.

Wet market in Anhui. China, 2016. Image by Kelly Guerin / We Animals.

As COVID-19 has spread across the world, affecting nearly 2 million people as of April 14, there are increasing calls to shut down the wildlife trade permanently. Recently, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, urging him to work with international partners to shut down wildlife markets in China and other parts of the world.

“Poorly regulated markets where live animals and wildlife parts and products are sold provide significant opportunities for the human-animal interactions that lead to disease transmission,” the senators wrote in the letter. “We encourage the Department, in collaboration with our international partners and with other relevant U.S. government agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Agency for International Development, to work to close down unregulated wildlife markets that pose a threat to public health, combat the broader trade in illegal wildlife and wildlife products, and strengthen food safety and security around the world.”

Dogs and wildlife on sale for human consumption at a wet market in Indonesia. Image by Dog Meat Free Indonesia.

As the world’s eyes zero in on China, Li urged the public not to blame the Chinese people for wildlife consumption, but to hold the traders responsible.

“I have not heard or read about consumers in China demanding the re-opening of wildlife consumption because they want to eat wild animals,” Li said. “I have read a large number of hysterical posts by the traders ‘demanding’ the government to lift the trade ban.

“So, let’s not blame the Chinese consumers for demanding to eat wild animals or dog meat. Let’s blame the traders, the breeders and the restaurant business owners who are so ‘graciously and selflessly’ demanding for their customers.”

Banner image caption:  Pigs in a Thailand farm. Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals for The Guardian.