Sunday, February 26, 2006

Another thing you'll never find on my table...

Chinese give cat food a whole new meaning
From Jane Macartney in Beijing
The Times

EVERY day thousands of cats are transported to Guangdong province in southern China.

They are destined not to become the pampered pets of the country’s new rich, but to be served up at the dinner table.

The trade is one that merchants seem eager to keep out of the public eye in a country where pet shops have sprung up to meet a growing demand as incomes rise.

While no laws exist to regulate the business, at the Baishazhou market in Wuhan, central China, two cat traders were startled this week when a local reporter paused to take photographs.

They had collected about 1,000 cats, taken to the city by rural cat-catchers. The terrified animals were crowded into large wire cages.

All were alive, but most were silent, apparently too exhausted and traumatised to do more than mew faintly. The traders loaded about fifteen cages, each crammed with cats, into the back of a van for the animals’ final journey to Guangdong. Chinese have for centuries eaten a startling range of creatures. Southern Chinese particularly relish the taste of wild animals, believing them to be rich in nutrition.

Wild civet, banned since the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) scare, is believed to boost the immune system. Snakes are reputed to increase a man’s virility, and the smooth-skinned salamander is believed to clear acne.

In the markets of Guangdong, cats cowering in small cages are a common sight. At the Nanjin poultry market about forty stalls sell cats, which are divided according to size. The larger the cat, the higher the price. A cat weighing more than 3kg (7lbs) can fetch 70p a kilo, while smaller animals cost about 40p a kilo.

A local newspaper quoted one trader as saying that he sold up to 300kg (660lb) of cat meat a day. He said: “Today I’ve sold 200 cats. Tonight another 100 will arrive. No matter how many you need, I can satisfy demand.”

Catching cats offers an alternative source of income for farmers in China’s poorer central provinces who sell them for up to 40p each. One Guangzhou restaurant offers a braised cat meat dish for £3, but charges £12 for cat stewed with snake and chicken. The owner said: “The cats are domestic cats and are clean and cheap. In winter we have more customers than in summer. Only local people eat cat, not people from other provinces.”

The Guangzhou City Food and health quarantine office said that there were no regulations regarding cat meat.

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