BEIJING: The annual Yulin dog meat festival in China’s southern Guangxi province has drawn global attention to animal welfare in China. The brutality to the dogs has drawn widespread condemnation from abroad and in the country.
The empathy for the canines was not a flash in the pan. A new survey has shown that many Chinese consumers now regard the welfare of farm animals as important.
Cramped, filthy and uncomfortable - that is how millions of pigs are raised in China, which is home to over half the world’s pig population. Demand for pork in the country means that many food suppliers are overlooking animal welfare, to keep costs low. Some pigs are confined in crates or cages for almost their entire short lives.
Said Chu Xueqin, a project manager at World Animal Protection: “In China, many companies in the pig industry use pens that restrict the movements of pigs, especially for sows. This means putting them in very cramped spaces. It’s extremely harmful for them, especially for sows during their pregnancy.”
However, it appears that there is some appetite for change in China. According to a recent survey by World Animal Protection, about seven in 10 Chinese consumers consider the welfare of farm animals important. In addition, an equal number would be willing to pay 5 to 10 per cent more for pork products from pigs that have lived better lives. The survey polled more than 2,000 respondents across China.
The World Animal Protection is calling on the pig industry and the government to adopt better welfare alternatives to intensive pig farming. These include allowing the pigs more room to move and not confining them to stalls.
The non-governmental organisation believes that improving farm animal welfare will result in safer and healthier meat products. That is because better living conditions will reduce the need for antibiotics to prevent the spread of infection.
Ms Chu said: “Many companies will be able to reduce their use of antibiotics and this will lower the risks of remnants of the medicine remaining in the animals. From this point of view, it will improve food safety and make pork products healthier.”
Industry players have said animal welfare is gaining traction among the big players in the pig industry. But the challenge ahead is to ensure that this awareness filters down to each company and every worker.
China Veterinary Medical Association’s Chang Zhigang said: “We are formulating some guidelines to ensure that every worker from every company undergoes training on animal welfare, and we’re doing a lot of preparatory work to push that. We can’t rely on the bosses to drive such a concept. We need every worker to know what’s animal welfare, how to ensure animal welfare, and to ingrain this idea in them.”
Their biggest task, however, is convincing businesses that animal welfare does not mean lower profits.