European news outlets are reporting that the notorious Dog Meat Festival has opened in China.
In recent weeks, Communist China changed the classification of dogs from livestock to pets but have not banned the consumption of the animals. Critics fear it was a move to appease public sentiment in the West but no real changes was intended.
The regime says it is drawing up new laws to prohibit the wildlife trade and protect pets, and campaigners are hoping that this year will be the last time the festival is held.
Peter Li, China policy specialist with the Humane Society International said: “I do hope Yulin will change not only for the sake of the animals but also for the health and safety of its people.
“Allowing mass gatherings to trade in and consume dog meat in crowded markets and restaurants in the name of a festival poses a significant public health risk.”
The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in horseshoe bats before crossing into humans in a market in the city of Wuhan, has forced China to reassess its relationship with animals, and it has vowed to ban the wildlife trade.
In April, Shenzhen became the first city in China to ban the consumption of dogs, with others expected to follow.
The agriculture ministry also decided to classify dogs as pets rather than livestock, though it remains unclear how the reclassification will affect Yulin’s trade.
Zhang Qianqian, an animal rights activist who was in Yulin on Saturday, said it was only a matter of time before the dog-meat festival was banned.
She said: “From what we understand from our conversations with meat sellers, leaders have said the consumption of dog meat won’t be allowed in future.
“But banning dog-meat consumption is going to be hard and will take some time.”
One policy specialist has warned that the festival is a “breeding ground for a pandemic”.
Dr Peter Li, China policy specialist at Humane Society International, told Sky News: “We understand that pandemics are caused by a huge concentration of animals of different species – animals with compromised immune systems.