From traders peddling frozen 40-year-old meat, to street vendors digging shrimp out of sewers, to the perpetually controversial Yulin dog meat festival, food safety is too often a waking nightmare in China.
Earlier this month, however, the country announced that it would be taking a small step toward improving its standards by banning the sale of food products made from endangered species. In 2014, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress clarified an existing law dealing with the country's illegal wildlife trade, stating that anyone caught eating endangered species could be punished by 10 years in prison. Apparently the legislation needed further clarification two years later, however.
Though the new law "strengthens regulation of the use of wild animals and products derived from them,” according to the state-run Xinhua news agency, the provision still allows room for captive breeding and “public performances.” The law also permits the sale and purchase of non-food products made from endangered species (rare animals are often used as ingredients in traditional Chinese medicines), and has been slammed by animal rights activists as a half-measure.
Endangered breeds of tigers and bears have been slaughtered in the country, and Shanghaiist points to restaurants serving gigantic salamanders and wine made from alcohol-infused owls, intended to cure headaches.
“[I]nstead of clarifying things, this new law has created a rather grey area for our woodland friends,” the site writes. “How to tell if an animal is being sold to eat or to wear? How to distinguish if one has been bred rather than captured from the wild? And how exactly is permission granted anyway?”
China's captive breeding industry rakes in a reported $1.3 billion a year. According to Phys.org, there are roughly 6,000 captive tigers in the country, and bears—which are often used for their stomach bile in traditional Chinese medicine—are also widely bred throughout the region. Millions of sika deer, a nationally-listed endangered species, have also been bred under controlled conditions according to Chinese forestry officials.
“In the past, China's wildlife policies have frequently come under scrutiny for failing to effectively regulate the exploitation and sale of endangered animals,” Shanghaiist writes. “While state media has touted this long-awaited provision, environmental activists have voiced their concerns that simply restricting the sale of endangered animals as food, while nice and all, does not nearly suffice.”