Dog meat markets and events like the Yulin dog eating festival, which resumes this week, are rightly condemned internationally and by many in China. For most of us, the idea of killing, cooking and eating dogs – animals we often know personally and love – is enough to make us lose our lunch.
Why is it, then, that most of us can pass a fried chicken shop without batting an eyelid? During the festival, which lasts 10 days, up to 15,000 dogs will be bludgeoned and gutted, while during the same period, nearly 29 million other animals, who also value their lives, will be killed here to satisfy British appetites.
There’s no rational justification for this arbitrary double standard, especially as animals killed for the dinner table in the UK face horrors very similar to those endured by the dogs killed and eaten in Yulin, who are commonly transported there from other cities. They’re crammed into small cages and loaded onto lorries, which may then travel for hundreds of miles. The same is true for the hundreds of thousands of terrified animals still exported from the UK to the EU for fattening and slaughter.
Some dogs in Yulin are clubbed over the head. This is certainly grotesque, but it’s also business as usual for commercial fishers, who repeatedly bash in fish’s heads and beat live, intelligent octopuses against rocks in order to "tenderise" their flesh. Many sea animals – all of whom have the same capacity to feel pain as any dog or cat – experience explosive decompression, and their eyes may even burst as they’re hauled up from the depths of the sea.
Many Yulin restaurateurs believe that adrenaline adds flavour to animal flesh, which means the dogs are typically killed in full view of others. This is horrifying, but animal protection group Viva! estimates that in UK abattoirs, approximately one million pigs regain consciousness before they die of blood loss.
Abattoir veterinarian Gabriele Meurer says: "The slaughtermen are in such a hurry that they often don’t put the electric tongs in the correct position on the pigs’ heads. The pigs get only half or insufficiently stunned, wake up while they bleed and are obviously still alive and conscious when they plunge into the boiling water. Sheep are stunned just as badly."
In the UK, 86 per cent of pigs are gassed with carbon dioxide. It takes them up to 30 seconds to lose consciousness, and during that time, you can hear their frantic squeals as they hyperventilate and try to escape the gas chamber. If the British meat industry did to dogs and cats what it does to pigs, chickens, cows and sheep, it would be prosecuted for cruelty to animals.
No animal wants to suffer and die to end up on our plates, and deep down, we know it. But from a young age, most of us are conditioned to view certain species as worthy of care and compassion and others as unworthy – all based on arbitrary human preferences.
Intentionally or not, parents, teachers, the media, and other influences send children the message that puppies and kittens are "friends", cows and chickens are "food", and rats and mice are "pests". Most children are also taught that human desires, needs, and interests always trump those of any other species.
As a result, we learn to ignore our own consciences, which tell us that it’s wrong to mistreat others. We convince ourselves that we have the right to imprison animals in laboratories, experiment on them, and kill them because it might help humans. That it’s OK to eat ice cream made from cows’ milk because our desire for dessert outweighs a mother cow’s instinctual need to nurse and care for her baby. That keeping orcas in barren tanks for profit and entertainment is acceptable. That the enjoyment we get from casting a baited hook into the water to catch fish matters more than the pain inflicted on them when they’re pierced through the lip and yanked into an environment in which they can’t breathe.
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I often think of the words of Isaac Bashevis Singer, who wrote of animals: "In relation to them, all people are Nazis." It’s an uncomfortable notion, but who could argue with it?
We can – and must – overcome our toxic, speciesist mindset. If this pandemic teaches us one thing, surely it’s that all living, feeling beings are connected. It’s time we took an honest and hard look at our own prejudices – our xenophobia, our sexism, our racism, and our speciesism – and took a stand against violence, no matter who the victims are.
Is it too much to dream that we’ll look back and say that 2022 was the year we truly started to see ourselves in others and began treating all sentient beings with the respect and compassion they deserve?
Mimi Bekhechi is Vice President of PETA UK, Europe and Australia