A Chinese man has recently announced his plans to build a factory for meat production. There might seem nothing new in that, but the venture is the first of its kind – a large-scale operation for the manufacture of dog meat.

The meat is popular throughout many parts of Southeast Asia, where it is often touted as a ‘luxury health food,’ believed to heighten male sexual prowess. Until now, it has largely been provided by private dog breeders and sellers, who are poorly regulated by officials. There are no effective animal protection laws and investigators from the World Society for the Protection of Animals conducted a year-long investigation into the live export of dogs into these areas. Each year thousands of pedigree dogs enter Southeast Asia from the US and Britain, and the figures they uncovered by the WSPA are believed to be only the tip of the iceberg. Fears have been raised among animal welfare groups worldwide who have received reports of attempts to import St Bernard puppies to China for the dog meat trade.

Zhang Weilin manages what he claims is the largest St Bernard breeding centre, situated 160 miles west of Beijing, and currently mates his St Bernard stock with local breeds, producing puppies that can then be sold for meat. Zhang commented: “When China opens the dog meat market, it will gradually become like raising cows. The advantage of St Bernards is that they’re big and grow fast.”

Meanwhile the ministers of North and South Korean delegations to the Second Ministerial Meeting celebrated their improved relations on 30 August with an unprecedented dog meat meal at the Pyongyang Tangogi Restaurant. Tangogi is dubiously translated in North Korean dictionaries as “a certain domesticated animal’s meat.” A Southern official welcomed the new cooperation between the ministers, but commented, “I’m not sure how the foreign press will react to this.”

Korean restaurants have served dog meat as a national delicacy for years. Sensitive to its international image, South Korea closed thousands of restaurants during the 1980s, prohibiting the sale of “foods deemed unsightly.” Legal challenges to the ban met with some success however, and in 1997 Cho Yong-Sop opened the first of what he planned as a chain of dog meat restaurants in Seoul.

While it remains an unpopular habit in terms of international relations, in Southeast Asia dog meat is big business. Initially a solution to the ‘throwaway pet’ culture which has resulted in huge populations of stray dogs, the WSPA is warning the world’s dog breeding community against exporting pedigree dogs to these areas, where they become delicacies, but Weilin hopes that his venture will make dog meat an even more popular commodity for the Chinese dinner table.