An email from the Humane Society International (HSI) announced the Shenzhen became the first city in mainland China to make consumption and production of dog and cat meat illegal. The law also focuses on wildlife trade.

The proposed legislation came into public view in February and will come into effect on May 1, according to the email. HSI reports that Shenzhen’s law is a permanent ban on wildlife markets and the consumption, sale and breeding of wild animals like snakes and lizards, which carry a fine of up to 150,000 yuan. Consumption of “pet” animals like cats and dogs is now allowed.

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“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,” the Shenzhen city government said, according to Reuters.

Dr Peter Li, China policy specialist for animal protection charity Humane Society International, said in an emailed statement, “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 4 million cats in China every year. 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. Although World Health Organization advice is clear that dogs and cats pose no known coronavirus threat whatsoever, it’s no surprise that attention is turning to this trade at this time because it undoubtedly poses a huge human health risk for other diseases such as rabies, as well as causing immense animal suffering.”

According to HSI, 30 million dogs are killed annually in Asia for meat. Scientists have linked exotic animal markets to the recent coronavirus outbreak.

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