No winners, only losers for China’s revised Livestock Catalogue

In a disappointing conclusion, China’s Ministry of Agriculture published its revised Livestock Catalogue after the draft closed for consultation on 8 May. Despite international optimism that the list might offer protection both to public health from zoonotic disease, and to wild animals by forbidding their intensive farming and consumption, the widely criticised draft has been as defined as final without any improvement.
During the consultation period, great concern was shown by Chinese and international scientists and experts who strove to make their voices heard by China’s law-makers, stressing the extreme risks of zoonotic pandemics linked with intensively farming wild animals. ACTAsia was one of many organisations who submitted objections and recommendations for review. The global death-toll and economic impact of COVID-19 following its outbreak in Wuhan at a market selling dead and live wild animals, has been largely ignored.

Changes to the draft list

1. Turkey has been moved from the list of traditional breeds to the list of ‘special livestock’.
2. Corrections have been made to the names of fox species; blue fox is no longer listed, as it is not a species, it’s a melanistic variation of Arctic fox, which varies in colour from white to grey.
3. Muscovy duck Cairna Moschata has been added to the list under ‘special livestock’.
4. Emu has been added as to the list of ‘special livestock’, listed additionally to ostrich. Rhea is not listed, but it is assumed it is included along with ostrich and emu, as all three species translate to the same word in Chinese.
5. All breeds of dog have been removed from the livestock list and no longer come under the Animal Husbandry Law. Cats have never been listed and remain absent from the list, despite the fact they are widely eaten and used for fur.

First losers: terrestrial wild animals and birds
Arctic fox, raccoon dog, mink, deer, mallard ducks and pheasants are now listed as livestock. While fox, raccoon dog and mink will be farmed for fur, sika deer, reindeer, red deer, ostrich, mallards, pheasants, alpaca, guinea fowl and partridge will be farmed primarily for meat.

Following the global health emergency and catastrophic economical damage caused by COVID-19, it was expected that the risk of pandemics raised by intensively farmed wild animals would be discussed extensively at the Two Sessions meeting. But nothing has changed since the NPC’s decisions were published on 24 February, and the species of wild animal thought to be at particular risk of spreading disease remain on the list.

The problems associated with farming wild animals were highlighted throughout ACTAsia’s series of think-tank webinars during the consultation period, with 75% of newly emerging diseases noted to come from zoonotic origins (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The grave concerns voiced by experts were shared with the decision-making body, but despite the high risk of farming wild animals, which routinely suffer severe biological stress, poor health and disease in captivity, the species in question are included in Livestock Catalogue.

Second losers: amphibians

Image Kate Fox. There is much ambiguity around the list of ‘aquatic animals’, which may be farmed under the latest legislation. The blanket term ‘aquatic animals’ neglects the taxonomic distinctions between species, meaning many species which are not aquatic have been lumped together with those that are. For example, some frogs spend their whole lives in water and are aquatic, where others only come to water to breed; and certain species of soft-shelled turtle are listed as aquatic plants (turtles are reptiles).

Frog breeders recently met with the Ministry of Agriculture to make their case for farming in future, and their wish was granted. By classifying frogs under the aquatic animal list, their consumption and trading can continue, despite investigations proving that breeding farms continue to harvest frog spawn form the wild. Permission to farm has been granted for tree frogs and buffalo frogs, while the Ministry of Agriculture will announce another seven species shortly.

Third losers: reptiles

Reptiles are widely farmed in China for their meat, skin, blood and for medicine. Although they have not been listed as livestock, they are not protected by the Wildlife Protection Law either. There is little hope of any protection for tortoises, snakes, lizards, crocodiles or turtles and no clear definition of their classification.

According to investigations into the wildlife trade, many breeders are now changing the registered purpose of their farms to renew their permits and continue their operations, claiming purposes such as medicinal or clothing.

Fourth losers: companion animals

At first glance, it may seem that dogs and cats are now protected from being farmed and eaten. However, while cats have never been listed as livestock in China, all breeds of dog were listed under animal husbandry legislation – until now. Their removal from this livestock list simply means that dog-farmers are no longer subject to animal husbandry regulations, since these are only applicable to animals listed as livestock.

The implication is that dogs should not be farmed to be eaten, but there is no law to state or enforce progress, no ban and no punitive measures in place. By removing dogs from the husbandry legislation, it means that dogs farmed in puppy mills for the pet trade or other purposes will no longer be protected by any legislation at all. Previously, the husbandry laws regulated the sales of puppies and dogs for either meat, fur or pets. National animal welfare or anti-cruelty law to protect companion animals in China is needed more urgently than ever. It is not yet clear whether a national law in keeping with Shenzhen’s municipal level of regulation will be considered, but there is little indication that it will. There is also an urgency to protect cats, which are not recognised by law and widely used for meat and fur.

Fifth losers: humans

Numerous suggestions on protecting public health and preventing pandemics have not even been read by the decision-making bodies, let alone considered. The consultation process has clearly been an exercise in ticking-boxes and the COVID-19 pandemic has not changed thinking or redesigned how we will live safely and humanely with animals in future. The list ignores the human death toll and disastrous economic impact of the current global pandemic completely.

The new Livestock Catalogue leaves a gaping hole in protection legislation, with those that fall through the gaps of protection via animal husbandry, are now without any protection at all. China is unusual in having no animal protection law or anti-cruelty legislation, which in other countries helps to shape farming systems and protects non-human species from abuse, exploitation and neglect through punitive measures.

ACTAsia calls for China to take urgent attention when amending the country’s Wildlife Protection Law to ban farming all species of wild animals for all commercial purposes. We are also calling for a national law to protect all animals, including traditionally farmed animals, and to ban the eating of dogs and cats, following the example of Shenzhen’s new regulation. In the absence of national law, we continue to ask local cities and provinces to ban the practices in question and protect public health, animal welfare and our natural environment from future threats of devastating disease.

“We are all losers to this ill-considered list: people, nature and animals,” said Pei Su, ACTAsia’s Founder and CEO. “The dangers of close contact with wild animals, with stressed animals, are so fresh in our minds and clear to see right now, it is disappointing that China has lost this rare opportunity to take the lead and set a great example for the world by passing progressive legislation for preventing future pandemics. Our petition asking for a total ban on farming wild animals for all commercial purposes gathered more than 45,000 signatures of support; our think-tank webinars hosted with One Health so clearly flagged the inescapable dangers to us all of exploiting nature. We will continue to educate Asian societies and strive to shape progressive behaviours. To live in the 21st-century, China must take its foot out of the past.”