Breaking news: Chinese provinces announce plans to buy out wildlife breeders, end trade in wild animals for food
Four Chinese provinces will offer farmers a government buy-out or other financial help to stop breeding wild animals like civets and cobras for food. This move is part of a continuing crackdown by China and its individual provinces and cities on the nation’s rampant wildlife trade for food in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and it could be a promising blueprint for the rest of the nation for ending this inhumane trade.
China’s wildlife markets, where wild animals are sold and slaughtered on site, have been implicated in disease spread in the past and most recently in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, increasing pressure on the country to end its wildlife trade. In plans published last Friday, the provinces of Hunan and Jiangxi announced they will compensate wildlife farmers to transition to alternative livelihoods, including growing fruit, vegetables, tea plants or herbs for traditional Chinese medicine. This week, two other provinces, Guangdong and Guangxi, promised similar plans, with details forthcoming.
The plans from Hunan and Jiangxi, unfortunately, also offer farmers a choice to switch to breeding other animals, like pigs and chickens. We urge the provinces to reconsider that aspect. China’s national dietary guidelines recommend a 50% reduction in meat consumption and Chinese diets have traditionally been plant-centered. A growing number of Chinese are also increasingly interested in plant-based options in their diets, and this is a great opportunity for farmers to focus on growing fruits and vegetables rather than animals.
Under its plan, Hunan province will offer farmers 120 yuan per kilogram of cobra, king rattle snake or rat snake; 75 yuan per kilogram of bamboo rat; 630 yuan per porcupine; 600 yuan per civet; and 378 yuan and 2,457 yuan per wild goose and Chinese muntjac deer respectively.
Helping animal farmers transition to humane livelihoods is a model that Humane Society International has already used with great success in South Korea as part of our work to end the dog meat trade there. To date, we have helped 16 dog farmers move to farming chilis, mushrooms or water parsley, and we have found, in most cases, that the farmers are only too eager to give up breeding dogs. Once we started doing this, farmers began seeking us out on their own, looking for a way out of what they realized was an inhumane trade with no future.
We commend the Chinese authorities for staying the course on ending the trade in wildlife for food, and the four provinces for their practical approach to ending it, but we also urge the nation to ensure that the suffering is not transferred to other animals, like pigs and chickens. In February, China’s national legislature announced a ban on wildlife trade and consumption, although that ban still needs to be added to the country’s Wildlife Protection Law before it becomes permanent. In April, the Chinese government came out with a proposed white list, which is now pending approval, of animals for consumption. That list includes some wild animals, like sika deer, reindeer and guinea fowl, but not other animals who are now commonly bred and sold for food, like civets and cobra snakes. Also in April, two cities, Shenzhen and Zhuhai, announced bans on the consumption of wildlife as well as dog and cat meat.
We are concerned that the buy-out plans in the provinces do not include animals farmed for their fur, like mink, raccoon dogs and foxes. In fact, the white list proposed by China in April would reclassify these animals as “livestock,” ensuring that their suffering continues. Fur farms pose a high risk for disease, as I pointed out in a recent blog, because animals are crowded into close contact with each other’s respiratory secretions and excrement. For example, foxes and raccoon dogs kept in close confinement have been found to be infected with viral diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and mink on four European fur farms have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. China is the world’s largest producer of fur products and if it truly wants to end the threat of another pandemic, it cannot continue to ignore the fur industry and the havoc it wreaks on wildlife.
We also hope the four provinces will come up with humane plans for animals who are now on farms that they buy out. Three options have been proposed, including the release of animals into the wild, to industries like zoos, laboratory research and traditional medicine, and mass culling. But as Peter Li, our China policy specialist, points out, zoos and the traditional medicine industry in that country operate with little to no concern for animal welfare, and culling programs in China can frequently involve appalling methods, including live burial. This is simply not acceptable. Animal welfare is a growing concern for millions of Chinese, who are unhappy about their nation’s cavalier attitude in such matters. Moreover, with the pandemic claiming more than 300,000 human lives so far, the world is watching China and its wildlife trade closely. We expect even more provinces with wildlife breeding operations to adopt similar buyout plans in coming days, and we ask China’s national government to implement these reforms with full regard for animals’ well-being and dignity.