The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival is about to begin—the latest edition of an event at which thousands of dogs are slaughtered for consumption.
The 10-day gathering, which takes place in southern China’s Guangxi province, is officially known as the Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, in reference to the fruit that is also commonly consumed during the festivities.
Thousands of visitors flock to the Yulin festival every year to eat dishes such as dog meat stew and crispy dog meat. But the slaughter of dogs and animal welfare practices at the festival have been criticized in China and abroad.
When the event was launched more than a decade ago, an estimated 10,000-plus dogs were slaughtered during its core days, according to Humane Society International (HSI).
In recent years, pressure from activists and members of the public in China and around the world have led to a significant reduction in the number of dogs killed.
Despite this, many hundreds of dogs are still slaughtered every day in the weeks leading up to the festival, which starts on June 21 this year.
Officials say it is almost impossible to determine exactly how many dogs are killed during the event because there are no official figures available.
“We tend to say [the figure is in the] low thousands because that tends to be supported by what activists see on the ground at markets and slaughterhouses,” Wendy Higgins, a spokesperson for HSI, told Newsweek.
“Numbers have been more depressed during COVID-19 times, as you might expect.”
Higgins added: “But it’s important to keep in mind that Yulin is just one location and one week in time, in what is an all-year-round trade that happens in multiple locations. Certainly other locations in the same province are showing signs of a very active dog meat trade, even as activities in Yulin have decreased.”
It is estimated that around 10 million dogs and 4 million cats are killed for their meat every year in China.
Polling suggests that dog meat is eaten infrequently and only by a small portion of the Chinese population, however, and a 2016 survey found that more than half of Chinese people think the dog meat trade should be banned.
Activists are now appealing to local authorities to cancel this year’s gathering on the grounds of protecting public health and animal welfare.
Liang Jia, an activist in Guangxi, said in a statement released by the HSI: “While elsewhere in China, cities are in COVID-19 lockdown, it makes no sense for Yulin dog meat traders to be allowed to encourage visitors to travel across the province and into the city.
“As well as the appalling animal cruelty that will take place with thousands of dogs and cats bludgeoned to death, it’s an obvious public health risk. The Yulin authorities should be taking this seriously because it would be hugely embarrassing for the Yulin dog meat festival to become a super-spreader event.”