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Dog and Cat Meat Trade

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 14 July 2021

[Relevant documents: e-petition 555039, Make the consumption of dog and cat meat illegal; e-petition 308926, Urge the Chinese government to stop the annual Yulin Dog Eating Festival; and e-petition 318423, Pressure Chinese & Korean governments to end slaughter of cats & dogs for meat.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government efforts to end the global dog and cat meat trade.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. Dogs and cats have been our faithful companions for not just centuries but millennia. The beginning of human interaction with dogs and cats predates recorded history, and the earliest confirmed dog has been dated to 14,000 years ago—long before we domesticated animals such as sheep. Our relationship with dogs even predates the concept of agriculture.

Cats, meanwhile, are known in our popular culture as being among the favourite animals of the ancient Egyptians. Although research has yet to find a conclusive answer to exactly when they were domesticated, it is clear that they have been part of our everyday human life for thousands of years.

In the UK, we pride ourselves on being a nation that loves our pets. I know that you love animals, Mr Rosindell, and so does the Minister and a lot of us in this Chamber. It is estimated that there are more than 12 million dogs in the UK, and millions of households, including mine, own one. Millions of our households own a cat, and it is estimated that there are just under 11 million in the UK. These animals provide us with support when we are depressed and, importantly, they never judge us, unlike some people.

To many, particularly those who have been through difficulties brought on by covid-19 in the past year, our pets are a lifeline. Our love of pets is not a recent phenomenon. Nearly 200 years ago, the Member of Parliament William Wilberforce, from my neck of the woods—where I am originally from—Richard Martin and the Reverends Arthur Broome established the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, more commonly known as the RSPCA, which has grown to become one of the largest charities dedicated to protecting animals, and not just here in the UK but globally.

Our dedication to animal welfare can be seen in the legislation that the UK has passed: 199 years ago the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822 and the UK’s first animal protection law were enacted. In the years since those Acts, there has been the Protection of Animals Act 1911, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and the Hunting Act 2004, further improving animal welfare in the UK. It is clear that this Government are proud to carry on that tradition of leading on animal welfare. They have demonstrated that in recent months by passing the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, and they are set to pass the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, both of which clearly demonstrate that they are willing and actively attempting to take action to further improve animal welfare standards in the UK.

I believe that we are one of the best nations in the world for animal welfare, and that is backed up by recent data and reports that show that we are the third-best globally in this field. I hope that one day we will be No. 1. Sadly, across much of the world, the poor quality of animal welfare regulations and legislation means that millions of animals, including dogs and cats, continue to suffer needlessly. Despite the companionship, loyalty and trust that they show us, every year millions of dogs and cats are killed around the world so that people can consume their meat.

I would like everybody listening to this debate to close their eyes for a moment. Imagine being locked in a cage, barely fed, struggling to stand from hunger. Living conditions are squalid and the sounds are of another animal suffering. Eventually life will end, often through barbaric means such as being beaten or boiled alive. I am sure that we can agree that no living thing deserves to suffer like that. Yet, sadly, that is a reality for millions of dogs and cats each and every year.

I have recently seen footage from the animal welfare charity Four Paws, of a puppy being boiled alive, the ultimate cruelty. That barbaric act was harrowing to watch, and that image will remain with me for ever. According to Four Paws, 10 million dogs and cats are killed in south-east Asia yearly. Humane Society International estimated in 2016 that 10 million to 20 million dogs were killed for their meat in China, 5 million in Vietnam, 2 million in South Korea and 1 million in Indonesia.

The consumption of cat meat has been reported to be on the rise in certain countries too. Research suggests that more than 4 million cats are killed in China, along with a further 1 million cats in Vietnam, purely for their meat. Those numbers are so large as to be barely comprehendible. They represent the reality, scale and prevalence of the trade in the world today.

Next week, I plan to interview Nara Kim, an activist from the Humane Society who works in South Korea to combat the trade on the ground. She was involved in the break-up of the Gupo dog market in Busan. Over the course of her career, she has helped save hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs. I take my hat off to her. I have also recently spoken to the NoToDogMeat Foundation, led by the wonderful Julia de Cadenet, about the actions of the group on the ground in countries where this practice is common. That group has taken an active role in communicating on the ground to those in the industry, and it has been involved in actions, including saving 1,300 dogs that were bound for the Yulin dog meat festival in China.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing forward this debate. It is an issue I have been interested in over the years and on which, along with colleagues, I have pursued legislative change. Does she agree that we have said plenty to China over the years about the dog meat trade? It is now time to take steps to bring about change. Chinese officials repeatedly say that they will politely listen to our concerns but refuse to do anything. Perhaps we must consider bringing into use any and all peaceful means at our disposal, to effect real change and to end the barbaric trade that the hon. Lady describes.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I completely agree. This matter is too important. It cannot be a talking shop; we need to see real action. It is a barbaric practice and too many animals suffer.

Nara and Julia are shining examples of the fact that one person can make a noticeable difference, and of the work that has been done by individuals and groups in the third sector to combat the dog and cat meat trade. Although such individuals and groups make a real and notable change on the ground, more can be done, particularly by Government, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) just suggested.

I am proud that the UK has already taken a leading role in improving animal welfare standards globally, including by sending troops to protect endangered species and moving towards banning the importation of hunting trophies. Yet it is possible for us to play a more proactive role in combatting the barbaric dog and cat meat trade, which is an unnecessary and morally indefensible industry.

How could the UK go about that? The answer is simple: through our soft power. Make no mistake, in this field the UK is one of the major players in global affairs. We have one of the five seats on the United Nations Security Council. Our TV and radio shows are played across the globe, and our diplomatic service is widely respected in the vast majority of countries. In terms of soft power, the UK punches significantly above its weight, which is an achievement we should all be proud of. With our presence on the global stage, we can make a real and significant difference in this field, whether through programmes to educate people in the countries I have mentioned or by lobbying Governments about the benefits of abandoning and ultimately outlawing this practice.

In order to maximise our effectiveness, it is important to note that the nature of the trade varies from country to country. For example, in South Korea dogs that are ultimately destined for the meat trade are factory farmed, whereas in other nations, such as China, Cambodia and Vietnam, it is far more common for dogs to be taken directly off the streets, often to be sent hundreds of miles away and, ultimately, slaughtered. If the Government were to take a more proactive approach to tackling this issue, such considerations must be taken into account, in order to maximise our impact and effectiveness in working for the best possible result. For instance, in the countries where it is more common for dogs to be taken off the streets, we should seek to increase our education programmes and outline the dangers of eating meat from these sources, and the prevalence of meat from these sources in the wet markets in those countries.

Although we are yet to determine the true origin of covid-19, one of the most widely held beliefs is that the disease originally occurred in animals and jumped to humans through the consumption of meat. It is more likely, given the minimal regulation of the dog and cat meat trade when the meat is sourced from the streets, that a disease will again jump from animal to human through this trade. Taking steps against this trade will therefore have a real and profound impact on our ability to combat the next potential pandemic.

What other steps can the Government take and why should we take them? One of the most important actions that we can take, in my view, is to make it clear to the Governments of the countries I have mentioned that we fundamentally disagree with this practice, giving reasons why we disagree.

In conclusion, I thank Humane Society International, Four Paws and the NoToDogMeat Foundation for their evidence and data, all the great work that they have done in this area, and their support in helping me prepare for this debate. In my view, the dog and cat meat trade is morally wrong in the world today, and there is little defence for it. The Prime Minister and his wife Carrie have both written about this issue recently with regard to the Yulin dog meat festival. The treatment of animals by this trade is barbaric. Although there are many amazing charities and individuals trying to fight this practice, more can be done.

I am proud to support the Government in its domestic animal welfare policies and the measures they have taken to help animals abroad. It is my hope that in the future the Government will consider what more we can do to combat the global dog and cat meat trade.

It is lovely to see you in the Chair, Mr Rosindell. I know that you have a great interest in animal welfare, so we have a room full of people, albeit small in number, who are passionate about this issue. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) for securing this debate. Of course, as she has said, we are a nation of animal lovers. I want to put the names of my two cats on record—Raffa and Mr Tipps—without whom my life would not be the same. Animals are so unjudgmental, are they not? They are also a delight, although I am always amazed at how long they can sleep for, while I have to work for hours.

As my hon. Friend rightly said, citizens in this country find the consumption of dog and cat meat absolutely inconceivable. The Government strongly agree with that view and are appalled by the prospect of dogs or cats being consumed. I myself have spoken quite vociferously on this issue as a Back Bencher, which she might remember. Indeed, I went on the Victoria Derbyshire show to talk about exactly this issue of dog and cat meat sales overseas, with a group of other organisations that she referred to in her speech.

I truly believe that we have a world-leading record on animal welfare, which my hon. Friend has referred to. Over the last decade, we have made great strides in ensuring that we offer animals the care, respect and protection that they deserve. Just recently, as she also referred to, we passed the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which came into force on 29 June. It realises the Government’s manifesto commitment to increase the sentences available to our courts for the most serious cases of animal cruelty. I know that lots of parliamentarians pushed for that, and I am very pleased that we brought it through. The Act provides one of the toughest sanctions in Europe.

We also launched the action plan for animal welfare this year, which sets out our future aims and ambitions in this space, both domestically and internationally, cementing our commitment to maintain the UK’s position as a world leader on animal protection. Our continuing work also includes replacing outdated practices with those that provide better welfare outcomes for our animals, and positively affecting other nations through the examples we are setting and using our international influence, which has been much referred to.

At this point, I want to reassure hon. Friends, Members, and anyone else listening that it is already illegal to sell dog and cat meat in the UK. There are strict rules for food businesses on the slaughter and production of meat for human consumption, and dog and cat meat would not be permitted under those requirements. The Government see no evidence that dog or cat meat is being sold or consumed in this country.

As the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and I were saying beforehand, we understand that it is illegal to sell dog meat, but I understand that it is not illegal to consume it in the United Kingdom. In the past, I and the hon. Lady’s colleague —I am sorry, I cannot remember his constituency, so I will not mention his name—were pursuing legislative change with the former Minister. Do the Government have any intention of considering legislative changes to make it illegal to eat dog meat in this country?

I have asked that question myself, but we already have a raft of different pieces of legislation that make it illegal to sell dog and cat meat in the UK, and those strict rules that we have for the food industry mean that one could not slaughter or sell the meat. There is no evidence of people eating dog or cat meat in the UK, and any meat imported into the UK has to be accompanied by health certificates to attest that it has met certain requirements. The UK has strict procedures in place to prevent meat such as dog or cat meat entering our food chain.

As set out in our action plan for animal welfare, our work on animal welfare extends far beyond our borders. That work includes our membership of international organisations such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, which was created in January 1924 to fight animal disease at a global level. It now has 182 member countries, and it now also plays a unique global leadership role in advancing animal welfare. This includes publishing a global animal welfare strategy, producing a terrestrial code for animal welfare standards, and putting food safety and animal welfare at the heart of its mission.

In addition to our own offences applying to cat or dog meat entering the food chain, I am glad to see that the US Government have also prohibited the slaughter of cats and dogs for human consumption, and a similar ban on slaughter was put in place in Taiwan in 1998. The Republic of Korea has its Animal Protection Amendment Act 2007, which prohibits some of the cruel methods used to handle and slaughter dogs. In Thailand the Prevention of Animal Cruelty and Provision of Animal Welfare Act was enacted in 2014. This was Thailand’s first law focused on preventing animal cruelty, and it protects domestic pets, working animals and animals being kept for food. The UK continues to work with the Thai authorities to promote international welfare standards, to see whether others can adopt our methods and those adopted by other nations doing more than, for example, Thailand in this space—as my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood suggested, we are having influence in that soft-power way.

We can see that the work being done in this House is driving change elsewhere, but in addition the Government commend the work undertaken by non-governmental organisations such as Four Paws, which is doing a lot of very good work—I was horrified to hear about the video that my hon. Friend referred to. Humane Society International is also doing very good work, as is the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, building support for animal issues and driving change.

The Government have made a clear manifesto commitment that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. The UK is rightly proud of our high-quality food and animal welfare standards. We will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure that any future trade deals live up to the values of our farmers and consumers across the UK.

We will be introducing an animals abroad Bill in this Session, which will focus on encouraging high animal welfare and conservation standards internationally. My hon. Friend will be very interested in that Bill. It will drive forward our manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals, to ensure that UK imports and exports of hunting trophies are not threatening the conservation status of species abroad. The Bill will also look to ban the import and export of detached shark fins and ban the advertising and offering for sale of specific low-welfare practices abroad. We will introduce the Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.

As an independent trading nation, we have a great opportunity to work with other global trading partners to promote animal welfare standards internationally. We will build on those opportunities, many of which have now arisen because we have left the EU. We can go out there to really work on this agenda, to make animal welfare standards a key priority, in line with our domestic standards.

My hon. Friend touched on wet markets. There has been a lot of talk about that, and the suggestion of a potential covid link. We have been very clear that a transparent, independent and science-led investigation must be an important part of the international effort to understand how covid-19 started and how it spread. Phase 1 of the WHO-convened covid-19 origins study was always meant to be the beginning of the process, not the end. We are working with partners to support a transparent, evidence-based, expert-led phase 2, including, as recommended by the experts’ report, studies in China. It is vital that phase 2 does not face the same delays as phase 1 and is given full access to the data necessary for the next part of the work—I think my hon. Friend will agree that is very important. It is not about blame; it must be about learning what can be done to better manage any similar outbreak in the future.

Further afield, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will continue its work to raise concerns about the welfare of animals with other Governments and international authorities, as my hon. Friend is encouraging. It does that at every suitable opportunity, including as part of the post-covid recovery. Using that soft power is important, and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) also raised that point in his intervention. I hope I have given some assurances that that is exactly what this Government are doing.

I am personally very proud of the example we set here in the UK in promoting animal welfare at home, but also of the measures taken to help abroad. We will use all levers on the world stage as we continue to combat the world trade in eating dogs and cats. I hope that what I have said gives assurances. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood for securing the debate and for constantly raising the issue, which so many people agree is very important.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.