In a move prompted by calls of animal cruelty, legislation is being drafted to make eating cats and dogs illegal.
It may be months or a year before the draft is actually voted on by lawmakers, but the plan is to submit it to the legislature and State Council by April, according to the leader of the drafting team, Chang Jiwen, who is also director of the Social Law Research Department at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Chang outlined some of the proposed details of the draft to the Global Times Tuesday. He said the law's violators could face a penalty of up to 50,000 yuan ($7,325) and 15 days in police cus-tody under the anti-animal-cruelty legislation.
The team will solicit opinions from experts, scholars and "related government departments" before submitting its proposal, Chang said. He declined to speculate on when the draft might be voted on.
China doesn't currently have any formal animal-welfare laws prohibiting the cruel treatment or killing of animals.
Eating dog meat in China is believed to date back thousands of years. The meat is considered by some to have medicinal properties, as well as warming the body in winter months.
Dog and cat meat are especially popular in parts of China such as Guangdong and Guangxi in the south, as well as the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in the northeast, and in neighboring North Korea, where such dishes are also popular.
Dog eaters often cite folk reference books, saying that people in Guangdong are likely to develop miasma, a local epidemic, and they claim that eating dog dispels toxins absorbed by the human body and helps cure miasma.
And there is a popular Cantonese dish called longhudou, or "dragon duels with tiger," with the name deriving from snake and cat meat.
It has long been hailed as a nourishing dish in the southern metropolis, mixed with Chinese herbs.
As a way to attract customers, some restaurants offer cooked dog meat for 76 yuan per kilogram, and diners can even take away raw dog meat by paying 40 yuan per kilogram, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported Tuesday.
Consumption of dog meat is also common among the Korean minority in China. In Yanbian, some restaurants on major streets can be seen flashing billboards advertising "yummy dog meat."
Ge Rui, Asia's regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, who has made public calls for an anti-animal-cruelty law since 1998, insisted that punishing animal eaters won't harm people's basic interests in the long run.
"No research can prove that the meat of dog and cat contains higher nutrition. People have been suffering a lot for randomly eating animals. No one can guarantee that the infectious diseases in cats and dogs will never be transmitted to human beings," Ge told the Global Times.
A Hubei resident named Xiao Tiantian is also outspoken against eating dog meat, especially since his pet dog was stolen.
"My dog must have become a victim of the notorious dog-meat consumption habit in Guangdong," Xiao said. "The habit has boosted the business of cashing in on cats and dogs, leading many locals to illegally catch and ship them to Guangdong in cages. I can't accept that."
Not everyone is in favor of the ban, though. Dog and cat meat has been consumed for so long because they have their share of fans.
"If we should ban eating dogs, why not ban eating pork and beef? Securing the lives of many poor people now is much more important and urgent," argued Du Quanbin, from Beijing.
The manager of Caiji Dog Meat Restaurant in Guangzhou was defiant in telling the Global Times that "the proposed law is totally unfeasible here, because eating dogs and cats has been part of the Guangdong culture for so long."
"I don't believe the draft could be passed, nor would I change the way we operate our restaurant," he said.
And the owner of the Yanjie Xicheng Dog Meat Restaurant in Yanji, Jilin Province, surnamed Piao, told the Global Times that the proposed rule may not have a big impact on people of Han descent, but it would definitely be bad news for Korean minorities because eating dogs is part of their dining culture.
The neighboring Koreas have the same culinary culture. In March 2009, the South Korea-based Korea Times reported that some 9,000 tons of dog are served at about 6,500 restaurants across the country annually.
Shi Yufan, an employee with China National Native Produce & Animal By-products Import & Export Corp told the Global Times that her company welcomes the rules, even if it is engaged in animal product-related business.
"It's everyone's responsibility to treat animals well and use them in the most humane way … because we human beings take too much from them but never learn to repay them," she said.
Some lawyers also questioned the draft's feasibility.
Lu Junxiang, a lawyer with the Beijing-based Dongwei Law Firm, said there is a very low possibility that the draft will become law.
"A law has to take the interests of the mass public into consideration," he said, adding that the draft fails to consider the people who eat dog and cat meat as a folk custom.
Chang's team unveiled a law draft last year to stress the importance of animal welfare, referring to their right to life, a sound living environment, and good physical and mental health.
After receiving a lot of criticism centering on arguments of the lack of people's welfare, Chang's team decided to focus their drafts on the "anti-cruelty" of animals.
He also conceded that the draft will respect some local cultures such as the Koreans' eating habits, and may exclude them from the ban.
However, this exclusion may give rise to new questions, such as who should have the privilege to be exempt, analysts said.