China: Animal Welfare on the Legal Docket

China: Animal Welfare on the Legal Docket

In future, a different destiny?

China has drafted its first Animal Protection Law. At present, Chinese animal law covers wildlife only. A team of experts headed by Chang Jiwen, director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences‘ Social Law Research Department, is looking to change this. On June 15, 2009, state media reported that the team finished drafting China’s first Animal Protection Law. According to the draft, severe cases of animal abuse, such as the hauling of cats from all over China to Guangdong Province for a Cantonese delicacy of shui zhu huo mao or water-boiled live cats, can result in the jailing of violators. Lighter punishments include fines of up to 6,000 yuan ($877.50) and detention periods of 15 days or less.

The draft also proposes implanting data chips in pets as a means of controlling stray populations, and improving farm animal welfare through the adoption of humane breeding, transportation, and slaughter practices. In August, the draft law will be published to solicit public opinion and will be submitted to various government departments by year-end. Repeated accounts of animal abuse reported by the Chinese media have spurred on the legal drafting team’s work. In 2002 for example, a student from Tsinghua University poured sulphuric acid into the mouths of Beijing zoo’s black bears. In 2005, a graduate student from Fudan University abused 30 stray cats, gouging out their eyes, and eventually killing them. More recently, in 2006, a group of teenage girls in high heels trampled a number of cats to death, supposedly for fun. An Internet uproar ensued and the events sparked off heated ethical debates.

While China’s animal lovers responded eagerly to news of the draft law, critical voices were also heard. “We’re unable even to take care of the numerous poor, let alone animals. Let’s talk about human rights first!” was a common public response. Some went further, accusing the scholars and activists of blindly emulating the West and pointing out the hypocrisy of “animal welfare,” as the animals are ultimately killed regardless of how humane the slaughter.

In an interview with CCTV, Professor Chang, head of the drafting team, responded to such criticisms. He stressed that the team sought to craft the law in accord with the actual conditions for animals in China, with anti-abuse (that is, punishing the infliction of unnecessary pain on nonhuman animals) forming the basis of the law. Professor Chang admitted that it while it is currently unrealistic for China to mirror Western standards of animal welfare, he detailed step-by-step measures to improve Chinese animal welfare that can be implemented within the next two decades.

A final version of the draft law will have to go through the State Council, China’s highest executive organ, and undergo three readings at the National People’s Congress (China’s national legislature) before taking effect. Every change in life presents its own set of challenges. Such difficulties are inevitable, but are never reason enough to avoid action. This draft presents the Chinese people with a plan detailing not only better animal treatment, but also reforms to industrial animal agriculture systems and rural labor. The “humane” path will encounter roadblocks in China, but it is an important route to the future.