China has drawn up guidelines to reclassify dogs as pets rather than livestock in a potentially “game-changing” response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Dogs are a delicacy in many regions of the country, where livestock refers to animals that can be bred to provide food, milk, fur, fibre and medicine.
It also refers to animals that serve the needs of sport or the military.
But China’s ministry of agriculture said on Wednesday: “As far as dogs are concerned, along with the progress of human civilisation and the public concern and love for animal protection, dogs have been specialised to become companion animals, and internationally are not considered to be livestock, and they will not be regulated as livestock in China.”
Wendy Higgins, a spokeswoman for the animal welfare charity Humane Society International, said: “This draft proposal could signal a game-changer moment for animal protection in China.”
The charity estimates that around 10 million dogs are still killed in China for meat each year, with some of them being stolen pets.
The city of Yulin, in the region of Guangxi, holds an annual dog meat festival in June.
However, dog consumption has become increasingly unpopular in China, and the southern city of Shenzhen became the first to ban it last month.
The coronavirus is widely believed to have originated in horseshoe bats before being passed onto humans by intermediary species on sale at a market in Wuhan, China, where the disease was first identified.
China subsequently banned the breeding, trading and consumption of wildlife, and revoked all existing licenses.
It has also promised to revise legislation to make the ban permanent.
The draft guidelines published on Wednesday, which have been released to the public for consultation, listed 18 traditional livestock species – including cattle, pigs, poultry and camels.
It also added 13 “special” species that would also be exempt from wild animal trading restrictions, including reindeer, alpaca, pheasants, ostriches and foxes.
China has ended coronavirus lockdown measures in Wuhan, 11 weeks after it became the epicentre of what has since developed into a global crisis.
England confirmed a further 765 deaths from the virus on Thursday, bringing the total to 7,248.
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