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Shenzhen Is First City in China to Ban Eating Cats and Dogs

Animals
Shenzhen Is First City in China to Ban Eating Cats and Dogs
Animal rights activists try to save dogs at a free market ahead of the Yulin Dog Eating Festival in Yulin city, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on June 21, 2014. Jie Zhao / Corbis via Getty Images

The Chinese city of Shenzhen announced Thursday that it would ban the eating of dogs and cats in the wake of the coronavirus, which is believed to have stemmed from the wildlife trade, according to Reuters.


The new ordinance will start on May 1, and makes Shenzhen the first city in China to ban the consumption of animals raised as pets, as CNN reported. The ban builds on a Feb. 1 decree by the country's government that made it illegal to eat wild animals.

"Dogs and cats as pets have established a much closer relationship with humans than all other animals, and banning the consumption of dogs and cats and other pets is a common practice in developed countries and in Hong Kong and Taiwan," a spokesperson for the Shenzhen government said, as Newsweek reported. "This ban also responds to the demand and spirit of human civilization."

In addition to banning the sale of cats and dogs for food, the new rule, known as the "Shenzhen Special Economic Region Regulation on a Comprehensive Ban on the Consumption of Wild Animals," permanently bans the consumption, breeding and sale of wildlife — such as snakes, lizards and other wild animals — for people to eat in the city, according to Newsweek.

The rule says that animals that can be eaten include pigs, cattle, sheep, donkeys, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons and quails, among others, according to Newsweek.


"If convicted, they will be subjected to a fine of 30 times the wild animal's value, if the animal is above the value of 10,000CNY [$1400 USD]," announced authorities, as CNN announced.

Liu Jianping, an official with the Shenzhen Center for Disease Prevention and Control, told the state-owned media Shenzhen Daily that the poultry, livestock and seafood available to consumers was sufficient.

"There is no evidence showing that wildlife is more nutritious than poultry and livestock," Liu said, as Reuters reported.

According to the Humane Society International, 30 million dogs are killed each year across Asia for meat. However, eating dog meat in China is actually not that common. The majority of people there say they have never tried it and don't want to, as the BBC reported.

That said, the Humane Society International praised the move and said it may be an auspicious harbinger for the future protection of dogs, cats and wildlife.

"With Shenzhen taking the historic decision to become mainland China's first city to ban dog and cat meat consumption, this really could be a watershed moment in efforts to end this brutal trade that kills an estimated 10 million dogs and four million cats in China every year," said Dr. Peter Li, China policy specialist for the Humane Society International, as Newsweek reported. "The majority of these companion animals are stolen from people's back yards or snatched from the streets, and are spirited away on the backs of trucks to be beaten to death in slaughterhouses and restaurants across China."

"Shenzhen is China's fifth-largest city so although the dog meat trade is fairly small there compared with the rest of the province, its true significance is that it could inspire a domino effect with other cities following suit. Most people in China don't eat dog or cat meat, and there is considerable opposition to the trade particularly among younger Chinese," he added.

While authorities are trying to bring the lucrative wildlife trade under control after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cultural roots of China's use of wild animals are deeply ingrained. Wild animals are not only used for food, but also for traditional medicine, clothing, ornaments and even pets, according to CNN.

"Shenzhen is the first city in the world to take the lessons learned from this pandemic seriously and make the changes needed to avoid another pandemic," said Teresa M. Telecky, the vice president of the wildlife department for Humane Society International, to Reuters.

"Shenzhen's bold steps to stop this trade and wildlife consumption is a model for governments around the world to emulate."

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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