Thousands of dogs are set to be eaten in an annual 10-day Chinese festival due to get under way tomorrow.
Campaigners who brand the event a “public health risk” are still hoping an appeal to the country’s government to intervene will earn a last-minute reprieve for up to 5,000 animals.
But vendors have already been photographed selling slaughtered pups in Yulin, Guangxi province, long before the start of proceedings.
Local activists found eight stands at Dongkou market and a further 18 at Nanqiao market at the end of May, Humane Society International said.
Officials claim there are checkpoints on highways to stop incoming trucks of dogs, but local activists insist that the vehicles are still getting through, according to HSI.
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It comes as the world continues to struggle to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which is said to have started in a wet market selling animals in Wuhan over 18 months ago.
Local activist Xiong Hu said: “Stopping incoming dog trucks should have been a top priority for the Guangxi officials on account of disease risks and animal cruelty.
“Truck after truck of sick and dying dogs have been coming to Yulin for the past few weeks, and the local authorities just do nothing to stop it.
“After everything China has been through with Covid-19, you would think national and regional governments would crack down hard on the illegal and filthy dog meat trade to stop public health risks from this unnecessary trade.”
A petition started by the country’s major animal rights groups, which calls for action on the festival and trade in dog meat, has been sent to China’s minister of public health and minister of agriculture as well as the party secretary of Guangxi and Mayor of Yulin.
Meanwhile Dr Peter Li, HSI’s expert on China animal welfare policy, applauded the country’s progress after Shenzhen and Zhuhai became the first mainland cities to outlaw dog and cat meat sales and consumption.
But he cautioned: “This trade can be a ticking time bomb for zoonoses [diseases that can pass from animals to humans] and epidemic outbreaks.
“The public health and safety of China’s 1.4billion people can never be valued below the interest of the small number of dog meat traders.”