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(Updated 25/02/01)

Protest over plight of doomed St Bernards

A DIPLOMATIC row looks set to explode between Switzerland and China after the Swiss Government announced its intention to launch an investigation into the plight of thousands of St Bernard dogs being bred in China for their meat.

St Bernards are almost unknown as pets in China, but are highly prized by China’s ‘meat dog’ breeders for their gentleness, rapid breeding rate and the ease at which they can be fattened up. They are known as “Big Dumb Dogs” which gives some indication of the esteem in which they are held.

A petition signed by 11,000 St Bernard owners and breeders worldwide was submitted to the Swiss government by the charity SOS St Bernard International, based in Geneva.

The Swiss Embassy in Beijing said last week that after such a petition was received, the Swiss Parliament would normally ask for an official report. However, such a report would only deal with accounts of the dogs being tortured to improve meat quality before being slaughtered.

A Swiss diplomat told OUR DOGS: “As for the fact that St Bernards are eaten in China, I think Switzerland can do nothing about this officially, these are differences in culture. The more delicate question is how the animals are killed.”

A member of staff at the Chinese State-funded dog meat farm Lin Xing Raising and Propagating Centre in the northeastern province of Shanxi said that St Bernards were “a business with a good future” in China.
The spokesman commented, “We started in Spring 1998 with 20 dogs imported from Switzerland. Now we have more than 100 dogs at our centre. They are really easy to breed. We feed them a pound of corn meal a day with some cow offal.

“The dogs are very large and their meat is delicious. It is much more nutritious than normal dog meat.”
The centre blithely quoted prices of £260 for a six month-old St Bernard or up to £6,000 for an adult male, the equivalent of several years’ wages for a Chinese city-dweller.

A brochure published by the Shenyaung Agriculture and Science Development Institute in the northern province of Liaoning praises the St Bernards’ “high farrowing rate”, its “fine and tasty” meat and its “gentle disposition is good for group breeding”. Returns from meat dog farming were four times than from pig farming, according to the brochure.

China has no animal cruelty laws, so domestic animals have no protection. There is evidence from animal welfare groups to suggest that meat dogs are hurt just before slaughter in the arcane belief that adrenalin produced by pain improves the quality of their meat.