In light of the coronavirus pandemic, China has drawn up new guidelines to reclassify dogs as pets rather than livestock.
“Alongside the development of human civilization and the public’s care toward protecting animals, dogs have now evolved from being traditional livestock to companion animals,” a notice from the country’s agriculture ministry stated.
The official announcement follows a February ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife in China, which the Chinese government has promised to make permanent.
COVID-19, which has infected more than 1.5 million people worldwide, is widely believed to have originated in horseshoe bats and passed to humans through a wet market selling wildlife in the city of Wuhan, China.
The new guidelines, published Wednesday, list 18 animals as livestock, including cattle, pigs, poultry and camels. It added another 13 “special” species that would be exempt from the restrictions on wildlife trade and could be raised for the purpose of eating, including reindeer, alpaca, pheasants, ostriches and foxes.
Dog consumption has lost popularity in China in recent years, and the Chinese city of Shenzhen became the first to ban the practice last month.
Still, the Humane Society International estimates that around 10 million dogs, and also 4 million cats, are harvested for meat each year in China, including stolen pets. The city of Yulin holds a dog meat festival each year in June.
“This draft proposal could signal a game-changer moment for animal protection in China,” Wendy Higgins, a Humane Society International spokeswoman, told Reuters.
The announcement from Beijing explicitly banned the consumption of wild animals, but it remained unclear whether it was banning the consumption of animals classified as pets. Given the upgraded status of dogs, local governments could follow suit to set up regulations banning the consumption of not only wildlife but of pets, as well.