As the Beijing Olympics wind down, and after four related blog postings (on the fur industry, tiger trade, ivory, and consumer power), I want to offer the floor to HSI’s China Policy Consultant, Dr. Peter J. Li, of the University of Houston-Downtown. Peter’s optimism has encouraged me, as I hope it will you.
The Beijing Olympics embody China’s earnest wish to embrace the outside world on her own terms and at her own pace. China is one of the world’s biggest animal welfare challenges, so, for people concerned about the humane treatment of animals, it’s good news that she’s taken this step to broaden her relationship to the community of nations.
Because of its size, the magnitude of animal suffering in China at times seems so vast that it is difficult to know where to start. But we have started, and there’s reason for optimism that things can improve.
In March, for example, I had the pleasure of representing HSUS’s global affiliate Humane Society International at a conference in Beijing on farm animal welfare. It was co-hosted by a number of animal organizations and the Chinese government. That’s right, the Chinese government.
China has 1.3 billion enthusiastic meat eaters, and today’s single-child generation grows up on meat. The parents and grandparents of these children are consuming meat, too, in part to compensate for the deprivation they experienced in the pre-reform era (1949-1978). “Hunger breeds discontent,” an ancient warning admonishes the nation’s rulers, and a meat supply disruption, the government fears, could fuel social instability.
What this means is that, today, the Western intensive livestock farming model is spreading in China like prairie fire.
At the same time, the Chinese government is cautiously open to progressive ideas on animal welfare. The Beijing conference on farm animal welfare was a good example of the authorities’ awareness of the need to look beyond industrialized farming and to know the latest progress in humane farming. Chinese officials at the conference even took the initiative to explore opportunities for cooperation with the outside world in other policy areas such as urban animal control. Despite its one-party system, China has never been so receptive to progressive ideas concerning the humane treatment of animals. It’s not too late to confront and arrest the trend toward intensive confinement systems in China.
Another great sign of change is that animal protection groups have mushroomed across China. These groups, operating with great difficulties, are confronting cruelty with great energy and determination. These organizations have worked hard to stop dog culls and dog eating. Their “friends, not food” public demonstrations have been tolerated by the government. It seems that every day more and more people in China are beginning to voice their concern about humane treatment of animals.
Obviously, there is a long way to go. To animal loving people around the world, China is a minefield. Whether it is dog eating, live animal markets, public slaughter, wildlife eating, bear and tiger farming, or shark finning, a lot of work still must be done to change the hearts and minds of the Chinese public.
China is a huge challenge. Yet, it is changing. The Beijing Olympics is indicative of an irreversible trend in China’s connections to the outside world. We all have a role to play in China’s transformation. We can reach out to support groups working in China to improve the landscape for animal protection. We can continue to advance arguments about the value of non-exploitative enterprises involving animals against the old ways of doing things. We can press to expand and improve China’s participation in the international bodies, like CITES, the IWC, ICLAS, OECD, and the OIE where major decisions relating to animal welfare are made. Any effort to strengthen her ties to such institutions will be a blessing for animals in China, and an encouragement to those who care about them, all around the world.