China’s Wildlife Farmers Offered A Buy-Out To Transition Away From Breeding Wild Animals For Consumption & Instead Grow Plant-Based Foods

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Wildlife farmers in two provinces in mainland China are being offered a government buy-out to facilitate a move away from breeding wild animals for consumption, as part of the country’s crackdown on the wildlife trade in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The plans, published on May 15thgive Hunan and Jiangxi provinces an exit strategy for wildlife farmers to be compensated in order to transition to alternative livelihoods such as: growing fruit, vegetables, tea plants, or herbs.

On February 24th, The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress thankfully banned wild animal consumption for food. Wildlife campaigners at Humane Society International hope that the province-sponsored buy-out will help to ensure that the ban is a success.

“By subsidising wildlife breeders to transition to alternative livelihoods, these provinces are demonstrating global leadership on this issue, which other provinces and countries must now follow,” Dr. Peter Li, Humane Society International’s China policy specialist said in a statement. “Chinese farmers not only have an opportunity to leave a trade that poses a direct threat to human health – something that can no longer be tolerated in light of COVID-19 – but also to transition to more humane and sustainable livelihoods such as growing plant foods popular in Chinese cuisine.”

“This is a model for change that Humane Society International has been putting into practice with dog meat farmers in South Korea for some years, with dog farmers transitioning over to farming chillies, mushrooms, and water parsley,” continued Li. “In China, you can easily imagine the vast sheds that once housed factory farmed bamboo rats and other species of wildlife, now being adapted to grow mushrooms and herbs instead.”

Dr. Li believes the closure of China’s destructive wildlife consumption trade could have the advantageous consequence of boosting the availability of healthy plant-based foods. China’s national dietary guidelines recommend a 50% reduction in meat consumption.

“People in China are increasingly interested in plant-based foods. In fact, a more plant-centered diet is far more traditional than one based on wildlife meats, or intensively farmed domesticated animals. Chinese cuisines have led the way with plant proteins such as tofu and seitan,” stated Li.

The buy-out plan does have a blind spot, as it does not include the vast number of wild animals bred in China for their fur or traditional Chinese medicine. Animals used in entertainment, the pet trade, or for display are also omitted.

China’s overall wildlife trade is worth around 520 billion yuan ($73 billion/£57 billion). The global focus as of recently has been on the wildlife consumption trade worth 125 billion yuan ($18 billion/£14 billion). The largest proportion of China’s wildlife farming – the fur industry is worth 389 billion yuan ($55 billion/£43billion) annually. There are now plans in China to reclassify the millions of raccoon dogs, foxes, and minks farmed for their fur from “wildlife” to “livestock” as part of a new resource list by the Ministry of Agriculture, State Forestry and Grassland Bureau.

“Rebranding fur-bearing wildlife as ‘livestock’ doesn’t alter the fact that there are insurmountable challenges to keeping these species in commercial captive breeding environments, and that their welfare needs simply can’t be met,” said Dr. Teresa Telecky, HSI’s Vice President of Wildlife. “In addition, there is clear evidence that some of these species can act as intermediate hosts of viruses, such as COVID-19, which is why governments around the world must stop all trading in wildlife.”

Numerous options have been proposed as part of the buy-out plans in Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. In our opinion, there is only one option that is acceptable, and that is to release wildlife back into their natural habitats.

“While the transition of wildlife farmers to other livelihoods is of course a very positive move for both people and animals, a sad inevitable consequence is that the vast number of wild animals being mass produced on farms across China will likely be culled or moved to other exploitative industries such as zoos,” said Li. “They may also be used in traditional medicine where animal welfare is typically extremely low and conditions woefully sub-standard.”

“Culling programs in China and other countries in Asia can also involve truly barbaric methods such as live burial, and so we really hope to see the Chinese authorities mandating against such cruelty. The wild animal breeding farms and factories facing closure and transition must not sacrifice animal welfare in an effort to implement the new changes,” concluded Li.

Only farms that have been operating legally with breeding permits before February 24th are eligible for compensation. The initial roll-out covers 14 species of farmed wildlife. A second group of farmed species will be announced after the finalization of the government’s “livestock” list.

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