One man's meat ...

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 February, 2010, 12:00am

I often wake up with a bad back from sleeping in prolonged contorted positions to make space for my dogs and cats on my bed. My wife and I keep three dogs and five cats. We religiously keep the ashes of pets that have departed to the Rainbow Bridge. Let's just say we love cats and dogs as much as any person we know. And if you offer us cat and dog meat to eat, we would be revolted.

But, however hard I tried, I could not find myself condemning their consumption as food, in China and elsewhere. A new draft animal rights legislation has been prepared on the mainland that would outlaw their consumption. It would also criminalise the torture and indiscriminate killing of animals, the feeding of zoo animals with live poultry, and circus acts such as forcing animals to jump through rings of fire. For example, the often cruel culling of dogs in periodic government-sponsored campaigns to eradicate rabies would be outlawed.

The draft has attracted nationwide attention, but it should be observed that it has very little chance of being enacted. It has, nevertheless, served as a good starting point for debate. The mainland desperately needs effective animal welfare and protection laws, and I agree with all the other provisions in the draft, except one. Until we outlaw the eating of meat in general, I fail to see why we should single out cat and dog meat. And before readers shout that I should worry more about human rights than animal rights, yes, I agree that China's records are appalling and need to improve - but that's a topic for another day. Still, I don't keep humans as pets and feel much less attached to most of them.

In China and Korea, dog meat is considered a delicacy. The South Korean government briefly pulled dogs off the menu for the 1988 Seoul Olympics; likewise the Beijing Olympics in 2008. That was to placate the sentiments of foreigners. But why should we eat beef, pork and lamb, and not cat and dog meat, just because these are the cultural or culinary preferences of Western countries?

In fact, the case against livestock - or home meat consumption - in terms of the threat this global food industry poses to the environment is overwhelming. All the key statistics - and they are shocking - can be found in a 2007 report titled 'Livestock's long shadow', produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The raising of cats and dogs for their meat is not remotely comparable in its destructiveness.

Wrap your head around this fact: it takes about 16 parts of grain to produce one part of meat. This means that the amount of food used to feed cattle is roughly enough to feed the whole world. As observed by Tristram Stuart, author of the by-now classic Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal, the fact that 'beef cattle are raised on maize and soya turns the entire rationale of the domestication of animals on its head'.

Global livestock produces more greenhouse gases than transport, much of which these gases come from the manure of cattle and sheep. The ammonia contributes to acid rain. Thirty-three per cent of the world's arable land is used to produce feed for livestock; forests are being destroyed and turned into grazing land. Land degradation is caused by overgrazing, resulting in compaction and soil erosion. Desertification is often the result. The livestock industry also uses up valuable water resources, as well as causing water pollution and eutrophication - the overenrichment of water sources causing the excessive growth of plants and algae. The report argues that livestock is more polluting than all the world's sewage systems put together and is contributing to the disappearance of biodiversity.

So, isn't it far more offensive to eat beef and lamb than cat and dog meat? Yet many, if not most, Westerners and Western-educated Asians find the former normal but the latter offensive and disgusting. Isn't this solely based on cultural prejudice and scientific ignorance? Actually, I believe the only consistently logical and moral position to take is to stop eating meat altogether. There is an overwhelming case for vegetarianism. Alas, I still eat meat. The spirit is willing, but the flesh, so to speak, is weak.

Alex Lo is a senior writer at the Post