Dogs are still being butchered and sold for meat in markets in Yulin, southern China, despite central government reclassifying them as companions, not livestock.
An NGO (non-governmental organisation) has warned the continued trade in dog meat could pose public health risks in the form of novel diseases.
Warning: This article contains pictures of dog carcasses.
Dr Peter Li, China policy specialist at Humane Society International, told Sky News: “We understand that pandemics are caused by a huge concentration of animals of different species – animals with compromised immune systems.
“A lot of dogs are such animals, in great concentration, and with huge psychological and physical problems. Dog meat is a potential breeding ground for a pandemic.”
Chinese activists visiting Yulin estimated that 400 dog and 200 cat carcasses were being sold each day this week, ahead of an annual dog meat festival that has taken place since at least 2010.
Distressing footage provided exclusively to Sky News shows stalls hanging with dog carcasses. Dogs still alive are kept in a cramped cage next to a butchery table.
Earlier this year, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs changed its animal classification so that dogs are no longer classed as livestock.
These are only guidelines, not law. But Shenzhen and Zhuhai, both in southern Guangdong province, became the first cities to ban the sale of dog meat earlier this year.
The guidelines appear to have diminished dog meat sales in Yulin, in neighbouring Guangxi province, even if the trade continues.
Activists said all sales had been consolidated into one market. Some traders told the activists they were worried their stalls would be shut down closer to the festival, which starts on Sunday.
One slaughterhouse operator told them it was now more difficult to import dogs into Guangxi because of a government crackdown on transporting live animals between provinces.
This year, China banned the trade and consumption of wild animals, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The vast majority of Chinese people do not eat dogs.
A survey commissioned by the China Animal Welfare Association in collaboration with Humane Society International in 2017 found 64% of Chinese people want to see an end to the Yulin festival, and 51.7% think the dog meat trade should be banned entirely.
Dr Li told Sky News: “In the long run, it is really important that China starts legislating a national law to ban the dog meat industry.
“Because this industry is supported by a host of illegal and immoral activities against China’s own laws, and for China’s reputation and for the safety of the people, and also for the protection of minors, it must be ended.”