Taiwan has banned the sale and consumption of cat and dog meat, a departure from a controversial practice that is common among its Asian neighbors.
The island's legislature on Tuesday amended the Animal Protection Act, imposing steeper fines and lengthier punishments for acts related to animal cruelty. These include a fine of 50,000 to 250,000 new Taiwan dollars (about $1,600 to $8,000) for anyone caught selling or consuming cat and dog meat or products that contain parts of the animals, according to Taiwan's Central News Agency. The government will publicize the names and pictures of offenders.
Animal-cruelty acts are now punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of 200,000 to 2 million new Taiwan dollars (about $6,500 to $65,400), according to the Central News Agency. Previously, the maximum punishment was one year in prison and up to 1 million new Taiwan dollars (about $32,700) in fines.
The amendments to the Animal Protection Act, enacted in 1998, come at a time of heightened awareness about animal cruelty in the country. Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, adopted three retired guide dogs in October, the Central News Agency reported. She also has two cats.
Canine meat, however, is still widely consumed in many Asian countries, specifically China, South Korea, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and northern India, according to Humane Society International. The practice also exists in parts of Africa and remote areas of Switzerland.
Perhaps the most controversial is China's dog-eating festival in the town of Yulin, where thousands of canines are slaughtered annually. The event has been bombarded with petitions and online campaigns in recent years.
In 2016, Chinese and international animal rights activists presented a petition with 11 million signatures to protest the dog-meat festival, The Washington Post's Simon Denyer reported. They say many of the dogs were either stolen or found astray, crammed in small cages and beaten to death in slaughterhouses.
China is thought to have killed more than 10 million of the roughly 30 million dogs slaughtered every year worldwide, according to Humane Society International. Four million cats are killed every year in the country.
In South Korea, where dogs are farmed for human consumption, about 2 million are kept in about 17,000 facilities, and many are killed by electrocution, according to the organization. The country's law on the legality of the dog-meat trade remains ambiguous, according to the Animal Welfare Institute, and government efforts to put an end to it have been halfhearted.
Consuming dogs, however, has become increasingly controversial and frowned upon in Asia.
A growing number of Chinese, particularly in middle-class and urban areas, lean more toward owning the animals as pets.
More than 800 dogs also have been rescued from animal farms in South Korea, according to Humane Society International. The animals have been flown to shelters in the United States. Seven dog-meat farms have been shut down.
Humane Society International said it has provided money and counseling to farmers who have gotten out of the dog-meat industry, The Post's Patricia Sullivan reported.
In 2013, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos struck a deal to stop the trafficking of dogs for their meat, according to Time magazine.
In the Philippines, Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala has called for the eradication of the country's thriving dog-meat industry. Alcala signed a directive in January 2016 outlining a campaign to end dog-meat trade by 2020. Part of the plan is to increase public awareness about the health hazards of eating canine meat and focus the government crackdown on areas where the practice remains rampant.
Killing and selling dogs for meat has been banned in the capital, Manila, for more than 30 years. A nationwide ban was enacted in 1998. The Anti-Rabies Act, passed in 2007, imposes more penalties and punishments for trading dogs for meat. But Alcala acknowledged that officials have fallen short in enforcing those laws.
“While the public may be aware of the prohibition on the trade of dogs for their meat and the underlying and accompanying atrocity involved in the treatment and handling of dogs, the magnitude of effects on the menace of eating of dog meat considering its health hazards has been downplayed, if not ignored,” according to the directive.
In a statement praising the Taiwanese legislature's recent action, Humane Society International said the changes to the law should send a message to mainland China and other countries where consuming dog meat remains legal.
“Taiwan's legislature has taken a monumental step in ending the dog-meat trade,” the organization said. “Most people in Asian countries do not eat dog and cat, and most find the cruel and often crime-fueled trade appalling.”
The practice is limited but does exist in the United States, according to Humane Society International. But federal legislation introduced last month, the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act, would ban the killing and selling of cats and dogs for human consumption in the country.