The Chinese have been eating wild animals as part of their staple diet for many hundreds of years and there's always been a perception it had health-enhancing qualities.
However, that tradition is changing today as the majority of city dwellers interviewed in a survey on meat consumption said that they have 'gone off' that part of their diet.
The survey involved 24,000 random interviews in 16 cities from December to January which is the traditional period for high meat consumption.
Co-sponsored by the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) and its partner Wildaid, a US non-governmental organization, the survey found that 54 percent of urban interviewees gave "potential health risks" as the reason for avoiding such dishes.
The survey covered eight cities with Chengdu, Shanghai and Guangzhou ranking at the top of the list of those avoiding meat products with 93, 71 and 70 percent of the locals respectively viewing the eating habit as a potential health risk.
"Generally speaking, over the past five years, the number of people consuming such foods has fallen,” a spokesman for the CWCA said in Beijing yesterday. "This is explained by a rising public awareness of animal protection issues and a growing knowledge about health matters coupled with SARS in 2003," he added.
Zhao Shengli, CWCA's vice secretary general, said that over 74 percent of the respondents knew that eating some animals was actually against the law in China. This relates especially to those species not listed in the '54 Terrestrial Wildlife Species That May Be Commercially Utilized' which has been updated since the SARS epidemic in 2003.
"In this regard the public's awareness and attitudes have changed," Zhao said. "This is due to the extensive media coverage of SARS, avian flu and the publishing of the wildlife list. This has encouraged consumers to reduce or even stop their consumption of animal products," he added.
During the past year 71 percent of the interviewees hadn't eaten animal products compared to 51 percent in 1999.
For those who still have meat products on their dining tables more than 32 percent cited nutrition as a major reason, 31 percent out of curiosity, 27 percent simply for the taste and 9.2 percent as a status symbol.
"Recent endangered wildlife smuggling cases also indicate that demand for wild animals remains a strong issue in some areas," CWCA's experts said. They hope the results of the survey can be used by policy-makers to further assist in the protection of animals.
Further results in the survey found that compared to 1999 animals have increasingly become commercially farmed and their numbers rose from 23 percent to 37.5 percent this year.
Interestingly while the number of restaurants serving meat dishes had dropped the number of grocery stores selling such products had risen.
(China Daily April 19, 2006)