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A dog meat festival is going ahead in the Chinese city of Yulin, despite a government campaign to discourage the practice and concerns from activists that such gatherings could prove a public health risk.

The 10-day event traditionally attracts thousands of people to buy dogs from cramped cages and eat dishes made from their meat.

This year, the numbers are projected to be much lower and many are hoping it will be the final time it is held.

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"I do hope Yulin will change, not only for the sake of the animals but also for the health and safety of its people," Peter Li, China policy specialist with the Humane Society International, told Reuters.

"Allowing mass gatherings to trade in and consume dog meat in crowded markets and restaurants in the name of a festival poses a significant public health risk."

A vendor with a dog in Yulin. Photo / Getty
A vendor with a dog in Yulin. Photo / Getty

China has been forced to reevaluate its relationship with animals in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The virus is believed to originated in bats before moving into human hosts through other animal vectors inside crowded markets.

In February, China imposed a ban on the consumption and sale of wild animals.

Late last month, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs moved to exclude dogs from the livestock list and officially classify them as "companion animals".

At the time, a ministry spokesperson hinted to reporters that the change might mean the end of festivals such as Yulin's.

"With the progress of the times, humans' understanding of civilisation and dining habits have changed constantly," he said.

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"Some traditional customs about dogs will change too."

Dog bodies are put on the desk for sales at a free market ahead of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in 2014. Photo / Getty
Dog bodies are put on the desk for sales at a free market ahead of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in 2014. Photo / Getty

In April, the city of Shenzhen moved to ban the consumption of dog meat.

According to the Humane Society International, nearly 10 million dogs are slaughtered in China annually, with many abducted from streets and homes for the Yulin festival.

Zhang Qianqian, an animal-rights activist who was in Yulin, told Reuters it was only a matter of time before the dog meat festival was banned.

"From what we understand from our conversations with meat sellers, leaders have said the consumption of dog meat won't be allowed in future," she said.

"But banning dog-meat consumption is going to be hard and will take some time."

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