BEIJING - In China, it is legal to eat cats and dogs. Even so, ordinary people reacted with alarm this week as news broke of a Chinese man caught with 500 cats, crowded into tiny cages, which he intended to sell to restaurants.
The man had used sparrows and caged birds to lure both stray cats and domestic ones in the city of Jiujiang in southern Jiangsu province, the 163.com and news.ifeng.com websites reported.
Many of the cats were found in cages in the back of a small truck, some near death and mewing faintly in the heat, while others were recovered in a hut near a highway, cooled only by a ceiling fan. The man usually sold the cats for around 30 yuan ($4.40) each, the report said citing a local policeman.
The man, identified only as Sun, was arrested Sunday after another man complained to police that someone had been stealing his pets, including a mother nursing five kittens. Police said that if no owners came forward, they would just release the 500 cats, the report said.
The news provoked intense debate on the Netease portal, with more than 40,000 comments, although more appeared to express indignation at the idea that the man had lured away people's pets than at the idea of eating the animals per se.
More than 10 million dogs and around 4 million cats are killed every year across China for their meat, activists say, a practice that comes under the spotlight every year with the annual dog meat and lychee festival in the Chinese city of Yulin. Activists say thousands of dogs and cats are "brutally bludgeoned to death," at the festival, which begins on the summer solstice of June 21 and lasts 10 days.
Meanwhile, activists said they had evidence that French-owned supermarket chain Carrefour continued to sell dog meat in China.
Animals Asia said investigations carried out in 2016 and 2017 found that two branches of Carrefour in the Chinese city of Xuzhou were openly selling dog meat products. The animal welfare group said Carrefour, which has over 10,000 stores across Europe, had assured them in 2012 they would stop selling such products.
But its investigators said the stores contained numerous dog meat products, such as "turtle-juiced dog meat" which costs 136 RMB ($20) for 900 g (2 lb). There was no immediate response from Carrefour.
"It is hugely disappointing to animal lovers around the world that Carrefour is putting profit before the wellbeing of China's dogs," said Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson in a statement, adding that their investigations into the industry, shared with Carrefour in the past, reveal widespread "illegality, cruelty and public safety concerns" in the industry.
"It is common for the West to criticize China's cat and dog meat trade, but here is a European supermarket openly profiting from it."
Last month, Humane Society International (HSI) and other groups said dog meat sales had been unofficially banned at the Yulin festival this year, after widespread negative publicity and complaints from animal lovers inside China and abroad - although authorities denied such a ban is in place.
On Tuesday, HSI welcomed a survey conducted by Chinese charities and local government researchers that found that 13 percent of Yulin residents never eat dog meat, and a further 59 percent eat it rarely, or only half a dozen times a year.
"The truth is that eating dog and cat is not part of China's mainstream culinary practice even in Yulin, the home of the dog meat festival," said Peter Li, China policy specialist for HSI. "Far from being vital to the Yulin economy or way of life, the dog meat festival is a national disgrace that tarnishes the name of the city around the world. Now is the time to end it."