China Food Safety Law: For the Dogs

Recently, in Hezhou City, Guangxi province, two men were sentenced to one year in jail with a fine of RMB 6,000 each. The men were convicted for stealing four dogs, killing them with poison, and selling the dog meat to the public as food. (You can find the report here in Chinese) Many foreigners, and some people in China, are outraged at the fact that the crime the two men were convicted of was the “sale of poisonous and harmful food,” not for stealing the dogs or for killing them. Animal rights, and especially rights for dogs, are increasingly a hot topic in China. The issue has created tensions between those, usually middle class city dwellers, who have begun to view dogs as, lovable pets, “man’s best friend,” and deserving of special protections and those who point to Chinese traditions in support of treating dog meat as just one more kind of food.

Those who view dogs as pets often expect special legal protections for dogs. However, there are currently no laws or regulations that offer special legal protections for dogs, or which guarantee dogs special rights to “humane” treatment. While China has several laws which touch on the protection of domestic animals and wildlife, there is no general law against “Cruelty to Animals,” and no law granting special protection for dogs. Laws of the People’s Republic of China in connection with the protection of animals are as follows:

Ÿ   Law of the People’s Republic of China on Wildlife Protection;

Ÿ   Law of the People’s Republic of China on Animal Epidemic Prevention;

Ÿ   Law of the People’s Republic of China on Animal Husbandry;

Ÿ   Management Regulations on Slaughtering Live Pigs;

Ÿ   Regulations for the Administration of Affairs Concerning Experimental Animals.

The lack of special protections for dogs can be traced to traditional Chinese attitudes toward dogs and dog meat. These attitudes are based in Chinese traditional Medicine which prescribes a special role for dog meat during the cold winter months. Some justify eating dog meat simply because it is said to be very tasty.

There is a long tradition of eating dog meat in some parts of China. Today, certain cities hold an annual “Dog Meat Festival” to celebrate consumption of dog meat and various recipes for its preparation, with Yulin being the most well known. In this festival, guests are treated to a selection of dog meat dishes prepared by local restaurants, celebrating the Chinese history of eating dog meat, which is believed to be very helpful for overall human health. According the teachings of traditional Chinese medicine, dog meat is very beneficial in winter. One well known Chinese saying goes something like: “If you eat dog meat in winter, you’ll feel so warm you won’t need a heavy blanket.”

Despite this reputation in traditional Chinese medicine, and despite the “Dog Meat Festival” celebrations, consumption of dog meat is not widespread in China. In Fact, the Yulin Dog Meat Festival itself dates back only to 2009. The three most commonly consumed meats in China are pork, poultry, and beef, Seafood is also an important source of animal protein. There are large and regulated farming industries built around production of each of these types of meat, which enable producers to meet the growing consumer demand for meat while staying in compliance with China’s strict food safety laws and regulations. In contrast, there is not a large dog meat farming industry. Unfortunately most dog meat used as food comes from stray dogs, and those which are stolen from domestic pet owners and killed for food. Large “Dog Farms” in China are a myth.

Due to the increasing number of Chinese attaining middle class status, more and more Chinese have begun keeping dogs as pets. These dogs are loved as family members and friends. For these domestic pet owners, killing dogs and eating dog meat is cruel and unthinkable. A growing number of these dog owners view events such as the “Dog Meat Festival” as an affront. These people are increasingly looking for the government to take action by creating special legal protections for dogs. This places the government in a tough position where it is caught between the outspoken middle class and the rural areas which still identify dog meat as both an important part of Chinese culture, and an important source of food for some low income families. Given these conditions, it is not expected that laws will be passed offering special protections to dogs or prohibiting the serving or consumption of dog meat. To some, the solution is obvious if somewhat counterintuitive: to protect dogs, look to food safety laws such as Food Safety Law of the People’s Republic of China, rather than animal protection laws which are not available. In this way, the dog protection issue becomes a food safety and public health issue.

China’s new Food Safety Law was issued on October 1, 2015. The aim of this law is to promote food which is safe for public consumption and to safeguard public health. According to the food safety law, any person or any company which engages in the sale of meat for consumption or provides catering services will be responsible for the safety of the food they sell. Additionally, the law requires a license, granted by the local Food and Drug Administration, to engage in such business. A business planning to sell any kind of meat must obtain this license before any such activities are carried out. As part of the approval process to obtain the license, a Food and Drug Administration official may conduct on-site inspection of the business premises of the applicant to verify whether the premise, environment, equipment or facilities, professional food safety technicians and management personnel meet the requirements set out under the Food Safety Law. The law sets strict food safety standards for each food industry. It goes without saying that operations which rely on stray dogs or stolen pets to provide dog meat would not pass this inspection process.

According to the Food Safety Law, the local Food and Drug Administration is granted many specific powers to supervise the food safety. For example, the local Food and Drug Administration has the right to conduct regular or random inspections on food (including rights to perform on-site inspections, take samples, seize and hold food), and to publish the inspection results for the public’s knowledge.

China’s strict food safety laws have a long history arising from several nationwide food scandals. The most widely known is the 2008 scandal in which milk and baby formula powder were laced with industrial melamine resulting in 54,000 infants hospitalized and 6 infant deaths. Those corporate executives found responsible were sentenced to death, or to life imprisonment. China has dealt very strictly with food safety issues since that incident.

The Food Safety Law provides for several steps to verify meat is safe for consumption. First, for meat sales, the butchering of livestock and poultry must meet the requirements for inspection procedures as issued by the Agricultural Administrative Department and the Health Administrative Department under the State Council.  Second, meat intended for sale must obtain a quarantine certificate from the local Animal Health Supervision Institution. Third, the meat must comply with food safety standards in connection with micro-organisms, pesticides, veterinary medicine, bio-toxins and heavy metals. At present in China, the above authorities have issued specific inspection and quarantine procedures as regards the keeping and slaughtering of pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry for food, however, there are no such quarantine procedures established as regards dogs. Therefore, it is difficult, if not impossible for a provider of dog meat for human consumption to meet the requirements of the Food Safety Law.

In addition, according to the law, meat or meat products from poultry, livestock, game or aquatic animals which have died of an illness, poisoning or by unidentified causes are prohibited from sale. For whatever reason, poison is the method of choice for those who wish to kill dogs for serving as dog meat. The Food Safely Law makes this practice illegal.

According to the Food Safety Law, any organization or individual has the right to report illegal acts in connection with food safety. Such reports should be made to the local Food and Drug Administration or to the local Administration of Industry and Commerce. If the authority discovers a provider of dog meat for human consumption which has violated the Food Safety Law, the business and individuals will face legal repercussions. For example, if it is discovered that that any dog meat retailer or a provider of food using dog meat engages in selling or purchasing meat which inspection and quarantine standards, the business will be subject to a fine from CNY 100,000 up to 30 times of the value of the goods sold, and risks the revocation of the license to sell food products. Five to fifteen days detention is a possibility. This is all under guidelines for administrative penalties, for offenses not reaching a criminal level.

If the behavior is found to be a crime such as in the case of the two men above, the Chinese Criminal Law will be applied. The crime of “Sale of poisonous and harmful food” which the two men were convicted of, allow for punishment including imprisonment up to a life sentence, in addition to fines or confiscation of property.

Because of the harsh punishments provided for under China’s Food Safety Law, and Criminal Law, application of these laws can go a long way to protect dogs from harm and mistreatment, even in the absence of legislation offering dogs special protection.  Because of a lack of legal sources of dog meat and a lack of legally required quarantine procedures, almost all providers of dog meat for human consumption are in violation of the law. Those seeking to protect dogs from being treated as food, may therefore report establishments selling suspicious dog meat which will most likely result in that particular operation being shut down. Enforcement of existing food safety laws and regulations would make the infamous Dog Meat Festivals nearly impossible to carry out. Local activists have been proactive in calling for the festival’s closure for public safety reasons.

Those seeking to protect dogs in China now look to the Food and Drug Administration and the strong application of the Food Safety Law to curtail the practice of sales and consumption of dog meat. While it may at first seem strange to protect dogs by treating them like food, appropriate application of the Food Safety Law now seems the most effective way to prevent dogs from being killed and eaten. Of course, dog lovers everywhere will continue to hope that laws are passed in China to offer greater protection to dogs, and our other furry friends.

Jacob Blacklock (jblacklock@lehmanlaw.com)

Bonnie Zhang (bonniezhang@lehmanlaw.com)

Published by Jacob Blacklock on March 9th, 2016 tagged Food Safety

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