In many parts of Asia - particularly China, the Philippines, Vietnam and South Korea - it is culturally acceptable to eat dog meat. Dog meat is also eaten in Switzerland, Mexico, the Arctic and Antarctic. However, animal welfare groups draw attention to the condition in which the dogs are kept prior to being killed, noting dogs are often tortured because of a belief it causes their meat to be tender. There are also concerns most of the 'meat dogs' are in fact stolen companion dogs and strays who are kept in terrible conditions while being transported from country to country. A particular concern is the Yulin Dog Meat Festival which has been held in China in June every year since 2009. It is reported 10,000 dogs are killed at the festival each year. Under Yulin tradition, eating dog and lychee and drinking alcohol on the solstice is said to keep people healthy during winter. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) state the consumption of dog meat is linked to a 20-fold increase in the risk of contracting cholera and has led to transmission of rabies to humans. It is also reported Yulin has one of the highest incidences of rabies in the world.
I share the concerns about the barbaric nature of this trade and the inhumane way in which so many innocent animals are treated in its production. I therefore welcome the work of a wide range of animal welfare organisations, including Humane Society International, in raising awareness of this issue. It is also the case, of course, that this industry presents a serious threat to human health.
As you are aware, a debate took place in Westminster Hall on 12 September 2016 in relation to South Korea and the dog meat trade. This debate was granted after a petition calling on the UK Government to urge the South Korean Government to end the dog meat trade was signed by over 102,000 people. This clearly shows the strength of feeling on this issue.
During the debate, my colleague, the Shadow Foreign Minister noted that the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018 will give us an opportunity to talk about the dog meat trade. The Government agreed the Olympic Games could be a catalyst for positive change. My Shadow Frontbench colleagues have also called on the Government to consider some best practice exchanges with South Korea in relation to the meat industry more widely.
The Government has pointed out that in the absence of international laws governing the trade and consumption of dog meat, the UK has no legal grounds to intervene or take trade measures against countries where the consumption of dog meat is regarded as culturally acceptable. However, the Government has said that it is prepared to tackle cultural norms, particularly when it comes to the consumption and use of animals, and that it will continue to raise concerns with countries engaged in the trade and the consumption of dog meat.
The Government has also stated that the UK continues to raise the issue of the ongoing consumption of dog meat in the Republic of Korea. The Government says that the British Embassy in Seoul has raised the issue of cruelty towards animals on numerous occasions with the South Korean authorities and explained that the UK public and parliamentarians would like to see Korean regulation that would bring the practice to an end. The Government says it will continue to seek further opportunities to raise the issue, in particular as we approach the Winter Olympics in 2018, and that it will monitor developments in the Republic of Korea.
While the Government cannot legislate beyond the UK, I hope it will continue to use diplomatic and other opportunities to ensure these cruel and hazardous practices are brought to an end and that it will press counterparts around the world to collaborate in efforts to change attitudes and reduce animal suffering.