Giles Watling is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Clacton.
In certain cases, it is still legal to consume dog and cat meat in the UK and I think that needs to change.
It is quite right to argue that there are many important issues for us to focus on in Parliament at the moment, but not only can we multi-task, we can introduce a proper and comprehensive ban on this meat quickly. I also believe that such a ban will help to protect these animals, not only here in the UK, but around the world.
In 2018, there were 20 million dogs and cats in Britain, and these wonderful companions have such a positive impact on our lives. I grew up with animals of all sorts and am the proud owner of three fairly noisy but lovely dogs: Minnie, Humphrey, and Herbie. That personal experience ensures that animal welfare is always high on my agenda, and I am delighted that ministers have recently introduced a raft of new measures to better protect animals, including the ban on third-party puppy and kitten sales.
Yet, despite our positive record, which has rightly led to international renown, thirty million dogs and four million cats are still slaughtered every year for their meat around the world – indeed, 15,000 dogs and cats are killed during the ten-day Yulin Festival in China alone.
These animals are often stolen and housed in small, filthy cages with little food or water, as there is a strong (and erroneous) belief that their meat is tastier and contains better properties if they live through high levels of stress whilst being killed. This results in horrendous suffering, with animals often boiled, skinned, or blow torched alive. No animal should ever suffer such pain and trauma, and I thank the World Dog Alliance for their efforts to raise awareness of this troubling issue.
To date, these terrible practices have, thankfully, not been reported in this country. However, current UK legislation only bans the trade in dog and cat meat for human consumption, the use of dog meat in food businesses, and the slaughter of dogs in abattoirs. So a legal loophole exists and means that the private slaughtering of dogs and cats for private human consumption is still legal.
To prevent any future exploitation, that loophole needs to be closed and, encouragingly, a cross-party group of colleagues agree with me and are supporting my amendment to the Agriculture Bill, which will properly prohibit the human consumption of dog and cat meat in the UK. Bill Wiggin, my fellow MP for North Herefordshire, has also introduced the Dog Meat (Consumption) (Offences) Bill to highlight how the UK Government could stand up for animal welfare by bringing in a ban – I recommend that you take the time to watch his brilliant speech when doing so.
In addition, we have now debated this matter in Westminster Hall, where the Government committed itself to exploring what more can be done to address this matter.
In closing this loophole, we will catch up with legislation in the US, where the killing and possession of dogs and cats for human consumption recently became illegal. This was an important development and provided a real boost to the international prohibition campaign.
It is important to recognise that this is not a widespread problem in the US either, but Congress believed it was right to pass the ban regardless, to demonstrate their support for global efforts to eradicate this cruel practice. In his speech proposing the ban, Representative Jeff Denham summed it up best when he said:
“Adopting this policy signals the United States will not tolerate this disturbing practice in our country. It demonstrates our unity with other nations that have banned dog meat and bolsters existing international efforts to crack down on the practice.”
Beyond America, the consumption of dog and cat meat is already illegal in several other countries and regions, including: Germany, Austria, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Australia. It is now time for the UK to join that group.
Yes, some may call this unnecessary or ‘virtue signalling’, as it is not a problem in the UK – to which I simply say: not yet! We can be ahead of the curve on this, and get legislation in place now to head off any possible incidents further down the road. The legal loophole can also be closed at no financial or physical expense to us.
But most importantly, as with the US ban, this would send a powerful international signal of our moral opposition to this horrific practice and will encourage other nations, where this is a problem, to introduce similar measures. In fact, the Chinese have said that until we make it illegal, why should they?
We have already led the world in opposing other deplorable practices, such as ivory poaching, modern slavery, bull fighting, and whaling. We now have the opportunity to do so again by properly outlawing the consumption of dog and cat meat. As a nation of pet lovers, this is the right thing for us to do – these are our companions, not food.