It's a dog's life

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Unfettered by regulations, the dog meat industry engages freely in extremely unhygienic, unscrupulous and cruel practices


  Caged dogs waiting to be slaughtered in Hanoi's Hoai Duc District. A Vietweek investigation found the dog meat trade thrives completely unregulated, heedless of food hygiene and safety considerations.

Hieu says he is well aware of the danger of sick and poisoned dogs.

 "Whenever we suspect a dog is poisoned or sick, we cut their heads off at the beginning itself, so as to avoid being cut by their teeth when we slaughter," he said.

Hieu, who owns a major slaughterhouse in Duc Thuong Commune on the outskirts of Hanoi, is also confident that the meat of poisoned dogs is still safe if they are slaughtered soon and their entrails are not used for food.

 "But it is rare. Dogs are usually sold to slaughterhouses several hours after being poisoned and the poison has already reached the meat," he said, admitting, in effect, that such toxic meat was still sold.

Apart from the possibility of containing poison, dogs are being slaughtered and sold in extremely unhygienic conditions in an unregulated, thriving trade in Vietnam, a recent investigation by Vietweek found.

At Hieu's slaughterhouse, dozens of dogs with their throats slit (after being stunned unconscious with a heavy blow to the head) were lying on the wet floor amid entrails mixed with hair, blood and excrement (they defecate while in their death throes).

Some impatient traders waiting to collect the meat lent a hand in collecting the excrement-tainted entrails and throwing them into a large bucket of water for washing before being put into a grinder.

The ground entrails are then mixed in a bucket of dog blood before being stuffed into dog intestines to make dồi a delicacy for many people.

All this took place near a large cage containing more than a hundred live dogs that would be slaughtered in the coming days.

Hieu's slaughterhouse is among dozens that thrive in Duc Thuong and Duc Giang communes, considered the dog meat capital in northern Vietnam. They supply about five tons of dog meat to Hanoi every day, about 70 percent of the capital city's demand.

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Along the roads in the two communes, it is common to see large stacks of straw to be used to singe the dog after being slaughtered something that all slaughterhouses do. The smell of dog poop is all around and the sewers are often full of waste discharged from these facilities.

Trinh Van Cai, owner of a slaughterhouse in Duc Giang, said dogs used to be sourced from the north central provinces of Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Ha Tinh, but they have been buying the canines from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia recently due to increasing demand.

He said the dogs are gathered across the border before being transferred to heavy trucks that run non-stop to the two communes to prevent dogs from losing weight or dying.

"We buy dogs every two or three days and each household buys at least 400-500 kilograms," he said, adding that many slaughterhouses are household businesses.

"Most slaughterhouses claim the dogs are from the north-central provinces and sell dog meat for at least VND70,000 per kilogram instead of just VND50,000 per kilogram or so for those bought from abroad," he said.

H., another slaughterhouse owner in Duc Thuong, said dog thieves are another low-priced source.

But he added: "They do not choose healthy dogs. Some even use poison."

Unregulated trade

Many industry insiders said dog slaughtering and trading is a way to make easy money because they do not have to pay taxes and fees, as for other meat, and do not have to abide by relevant regulations, including those relating to food safety.

An official from the HCMC Animal Health Agency, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was difficult to deal with problems related to dog meat trading and consumption.

Banning the practice would violate the right to eat dog meat, while regulating the business could draw the ire of dog lovers, she said.

In 2010, her agency had proposed that the central Animal Health Agency issue regulations covering the dog meat industry to enable better management and protect human health. Earlier reports have blamed dog meat consumption for cholera outbreaks in Vietnam and surrounding countries.

However, the proposal for regulating the dog meat industry received no feedback or approval after passing through many central agencies, the official said.

Dog traders and butchers, therefore, have no food safety or hygiene concerns to bother about as they try to maximize their earnings.

Thinh, owner of a major slaughterhouse in Duc Giang, said: "Even a person with a nose better than a police dog cannot distinguish the meat of a sick dog from a healthy dog once it has been cooked" because it is mixed and served with several herbs.

He said butchers deploy a trick to improve the appearance of meat taken from dogs that are badly sick and thin after a journey of hundreds of kilometers from other countries.

"After they are killed, they will be buried in the sand until the bodies inflate as they decompose. Then it was taken out, cleaned and singed, and finally it looks just like meat from good, healthy dogs," he said.

While dog slaughterhouses are operating unregulated, the situation is the same at dog meat eateries.

In southern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City and Dong Nai Province are major dog meat consumers.

A trader who has been selling dog meat at a roadside market in HCMC's District 12 for ten years, who wanted to be identified only as T., sniggered when being asked about whether the meat was of clear origin and has been inspected by animal health authorities.

"The animal health inspectors sometime check this place, but they only seize chicken and pork," he said.

Tuan, owner of a dog meat eatery in Dong Nai's Bien Hoa Town, said it is easy to run his business.

"You do not need much capital. Just a small place with a few tables and that's all. You don't have to obtain a business registration or food safety certificate," he said.

Nau, who owns five dog meat restaurants in Bien Hoa that have been operating over the past seven years, said: "Selling dog meat is the easiest business when you open a restaurant. No food inspection, no certificate of origin and no business registration required. Moreover, the demand is very high."

There are around 40 markets in Bien Hoa and most of them have a dog meat stall. Some even sell live dogs for food.

Binh, a dog trader in Bien Hoa, said most traders buy the dogs from thieves.

He said: "Apart from several tricks to improve the appearance of sick and thin dogs, traders and butchers also pump water into healthy dogs to make them heavier and provide more blood."

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