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China Reclassifies Dogs from Livestock to Pets in Response to Coronavirus

Dogs are kept in a cage at the Dashichang dog market ahead of a local dog meat festival in Yulin, Guangxi Autonomous Region, China, in 2015. In the market, some dogs are sold as pets, while others are sold for dog meat. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

China’s agriculture ministry has reclassified dogs, which it previously deemed livestock, as pets in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As far as dogs are concerned, along with the progress of human civilization and the public concern and love for animal protection, dogs have been ‘specialized’ to become companion animals, and internationally are not considered to be livestock, and they will not be regulated as livestock in China,” the Ministry of Agriculture said in guidelines published on Wednesday that are now open to public comment.

The new coronavirus is thought to have originated in bats that then infected wild animals that were sold in the so-called wet markets of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.

In February, as the virus was beginning to spread and before it reached global pandemic status the next month, China temporarily banned the farming and consumption of “terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific and social value,” and plans to sign the ban into permanent law later this year. But the wildlife trade is widespread in the country, and previous efforts to curtail the market have had little effect.

The guidelines list 18 traditional livestock species, including cattle, pigs, poultry, and camels, as well as 13 “special” species that will also be allowed to be sold, including reindeer, alpaca, pheasants, ostriches, and foxes.

Several U.S. lawmakers have criticized China’s wildlife trade and called on the country to do more to prevent outbreaks like the coronavirus from occurring again in the future.

“While I welcomed the announcement last month that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has permanently banned the trade and consumption of non-aquatic wild animals, I share the concerns of many in the conservation community that this ban does not go far enough,” said Representative Mike McCaul (R., Texas). “The policy does not ban the trade of wild animals for fur, medicine, or research, and I believe that these loopholes may be exploited to illegally sell or trade these animals.”

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