YULIN (Guangxi) • A notorious dog meat festival in China opened yesterday with butchers hacking up slabs of canine meat and cooks frying the flesh, despite rumours that there would be a ban this year.
After reports that the local authorities would ban the meat at the summer solstice event in the southern city of Yulin, animal rights groups said vendors and officials reached a compromise and set a limit of two dog carcasses displayed per stall.
Still, multiple carcasses were seen at some stalls in the main Nanqiao market, with stiff pointy tails, leathery yellow skin, eyes shut and bared teeth as if in a final growl.
One restaurant owner, surnamed Yang, said he sells rice noodle soup in the morning but his lunch time customers order dog meat.
"Business during the festival goes up about ninefold. But... we always manage to have enough dogs," he said, adding that he plans to sell six dogs a day during the event.
Thousands of dogs have traditionally been killed during the festival in conditions activists describe as brutal, with dogs beaten and boiled alive in the belief that the more terrified they are, the tastier the meat.
Dog meat sellers previously said that activists' protests have led to greater attention and encouraged more people to eat the meat.
Between 10 million and 20 million dogs are killed for food annually in China, according to Humane Society International (HSI).
Dog meat consumption is not illegal in China, but animal rights groups have sought to stop its sale at the annual festival.
Activists reported a "significant" fall in the amount of dog meat for sale at Yulin markets, with some traders saying they had stopped buying dogs, according to HSI.
"Despite the fact that there does not seem to be a ban on dog meat, the festival appears to be smaller this year, with fewer dogs losing their lives to this cruel industry," said Ms Irene Feng of Animals Asia.
But locals disagreed that sales were down and said a storm had contributed to the smaller crowds.
Outside the market, vendors sold stewed dog meat out of enormous steaming woks, shovelling big portions into plastic bags for customers to take home.
Some changed their "dog meat" signs to read "tasty meat" instead. One restaurant put yellow paper over the character for dog.
Said 25-year-old office worker Chen Bing: "This is a part of local culture. You shouldn't force people to make choices they don't want to make, the way you wouldn't force someone to be a Christian or a Buddhist or a Muslim. It's people's own choice what they eat."
He added that the government could not cancel the festival even if it wanted to. "The festival will go on. Young people, old people, even babies are all eating dog meat. It's tradition. Yulin has no local specialities. The festival gives us something special." AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE