Animals & Money: China takes dog meat off the Olympic menu

China has ordered the 112 official Olympic restaurants not to serve dog meat during the Beijing Olympics in August so as not to gross out Westerners. They also strongly suggest that all the other eateries in town stop selling dog meat for the month, too. The move is like their orders to shut factories to clear pollution for the month: purely cosmetic. If anything it shows how deeply entrenched dog-eating is. Animal groups say the practice is actually growing into a big business worth about $4 billion a year.

Even the government's Xinhua News Agency announcement shows how dog-eating is almost revered: "Gourmets with a special predilection for dog meat will be disappointed if they come to the Chinese capital in the coming two months." The Beijing Catering Trade Association (BETA) will "blacklist" those who don't cooperate, but they'll make an exception for dog meat "for medicinal purposes." Many Chinese think eating canines lowers blood pressure, the agency says.

According to the Asian Animal Protection Network, eating dog used to be a "cottage industry" where the rural poor would raise puppies to take to market. Now it's become fashionable -- especially in southern China and among Koreans. Dog meat is more expensive than pork. Factory farms with horrific conditions raise the dogs. The Asia Animal Protection Network says the farms are now importing big, docile breeds, especially St. Bernards, known locally as "Big Dumb Dog," as dog livestock. The Filipino organization Dog Meat Trade also reports that the dog meat industry is expanding and is now about $3.8 billion.The Swiss were horrified to learn in 2001 their St. Bernard friends were finding their way to China to breed livestock. (They're crossbred with local dogs and the puppies become dinner.) The Swiss Group St. Bernard SOS has an online petition that aims to stop dog eating altogether by the Olympics. That seems unlikely.

If dog-eating and dog-farming slows down it will be from changing attitudes within Asia. As the Chinese become wealthier and more urban, they're increasingly owning dogs as pets -- something once frowned upon as bourgeoisie. But instead of just giving the dogs rabies shots, the government waits until a dog contracts rabies and bites a person, then they conduct barbaric sweeps, killing all the dogs in an area, with vigilantes joining in. "Dogs being walked were taken from their owners and beaten on the spot...Other teams entered villages at night, creating noise to get dogs barking, and then beating them to death," the New York Times reported.

To be sure, there are those who would say it's culturally imperialistic of us to look askance at Asian dog-eating. Or French horse-eating. We eat cows, chickens and pigs and don't treat them that great, either. There's little hope of any diplomatic effort or boycott to stop the dog meat trade. (But it certainly makes the way dog food manufacturers were importing cheap (and, it turns out, toxic) ingredients from China seem all the more callous). As China grows economically more powerful, it has even less reason to fall in line with western culture.
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