Fact Check

St. Bernard Petition

Are St. Bernard dogs being raised for food in China?

Published Mar 27, 2001

Claim:   St. Bernard dogs are being raised for food in China.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2001]


St. Bernard dogs are being exported to Asia (China, Phillipines, etc) as table meat. Some of these dogs are first tortured to increase their adrenaline levels BECAUSE IT IS BELIEVED THAT THIS MAKES THE MEAT TASTE SWEETER, then skinned alive. These animals are being killed because their meat is considered to be an aphrodisiac. This is an absolutely abhorrent practice and WILL STOP NOW! PLEASE, sign this Petition which, will be forwarded to the United Nations asking that they intervene. New Zealand was successful in stopping the experimentation on the Great Apes

We can all, as a world nation, do the same for our pets. Thank you.


We the undersigned ask that the United Nations intervene on behalf of the people of the world to stop this abhorrent treatment of all dogs and to stop countries exporting/importing dogs for the purpose of either breeding for food or using for food. St Bernard dogs are popular for this practice as the puppies grow to a large size quickly.


Origins:   News reports from and about China are notoriously difficult to verify, and given the size and diversity of China's population, any statement about what

St. Bernard

"Chinese people do" has to be taken with a grain of salt. Several European newspapers and news agencies have run items in recent weeks about the raising of St. Bernard dogs for food in China, although newspapers often pick up stories from each other without verifying the information (and thus all report the same apocryphal story as true, as recently happened with the Working Stiff legend). Some of these papers carried stories filed by reporters in Beijing itself, which gives them a bit more credibility, but even these reporters seem to have been relaying information they were told rather than scenes they personally witnessed. Nonetheless, we're cautiously assuming the basic facts found in the reports are true, based on the sheer persistence of the reports.

The main thrust of the articles is that some 11,000 signatures have been collected by a group in Switzerland known as the SOS St Bernard Dogs in order to prod the Swiss government into lodging a formal protest with China, and the validity of the protest is supported with various quotes and scenes gathered from around China:

In Datong, where coal was once the biggest business, sacked miners now make money cross-breeding pure St Bernards with local mutts that are reared solely for the stovetop. "The meat is so tender and has a unique aroma," said Meng Li, a local breeder.

The fame of gently braising St Bernhard in oyster sauce or pot roast with aromatic vegetables has reached Beijing. At the Gourou Wang restaurant in a suburb of the capital - the name means Dog Meat King - St Bernard is in hot demand. "Dog fondue is the most asked after dish," said a spokesman. "It really warms you up."

On the public broadcasting system recently Professor Du Shaoyue said: "This is meat from an idle dog. They are very tasty and very nutritious."

The film accompanying his voiceover shows little St Bernard pups playing in the grass
while a female narrator, then cuts over romantic piano music as the "growth qualities" of the breed are extolled.

Song Shiyong, head of the Shenyang Dog Meat Research Institute said St Bernard were four times more profitable to breed than pigs or chickens. "This is a new way to prosperity,"


Central Garrison Bureau, which is responsible for the wellbeing and security of President Jiang Zemin and other leaders, is a regular customer at a dog farm that specialises in the breeding of St Bernards for meat production. A spokesman for the Beijing Academy of Agricultural Science said: "The Central Garrison Bureau buys up to 30 St Bernards for the dining pleasure of the leaders."

The Swiss dogs, which have been imported for mass breeding, weigh up to 200lb each and their meat costs about £4 per pound, according to the academy. A 1lb St Bernard meat dish feeds about five people and is usually prepared with soy sauce or oyster sauce. The tail, the liver and the paws are often served separately.

A brochure published by the Shenyang Agriculture and Science Development Institute, in the far northeastern province of Liaoning, praised the St Bernards' "high farrowing rate", its "fine and tasty" meat and noted that its "gentle disposition is good for group breeding". Returns from meat dog farming were four times higher than from pig farming, the brochure added.

One reporter found that Chinese claims about the savory aspects of dog meat didn't quite meet his expectations:

The Beijing academy spokesman said: "The taste of St Bernard meat is somewhere between ordinary beef and tenderloin — much better than other dog meat, which is often hard to chew."

This description does not quite match what I found during a meal this week at Beijing's Dog Meat King restaurant. Groups of businessmen feasted in private rooms with karaoke video machines at the head of the table.

Waitresses placed two menus in front of me, a regular one and a dog meat menu. The dog meat was not labelled as coming from Switzerland but the waitresses assured me that the Dog Meat King uses only the best type of meat, which I assumed to mean St Bernards.

The dishes on offer cost between £3 and £9 and included stewed dog meat with soy sauce, dog ribs, stewed paws and tail with ginseng. I opted for dog meat boiled in soup.

In retrospect, I would say that it tasted a bit like Irish beef stew but at the time it seemed more like a wet, crumbling digestive biscuit.

Two of the points often mentioned — that the dogs "are sometimes subjected to a painful death because breeders believe that the resulting adrenalin rush improves the flavour" (or because this supposedly enhances the aphrodisiacal qualities of the meat) and that St Bernards are being imported into China in large numbers — are more difficult to verify. The St. Bernard is supposedly the preferred dog in China because it yields a better-tasting and more economical source of meat than other breeds, and it doesn't make much economic sense to go to all the expense of importing thousands of dogs from other countries when breeders could simply raise them much more cheaply themselves.

Still, though the idea of someone's eating St. Bernards (or any other type of dog) may be abhorrent to us, it's also rather hypocritical of us to demand that it stop. Even if the Chinese are eating dogs, why is that any different than our eating lamb, for example? Would America react with anything but scorn if Hindus around the world presented the U.S. with a petition demanding that we stop the "abhorrent practice" of eating cows and exporting beef? Nonetheless, hypocrisy seems to be the typical stance of much of the world:

Animal welfare organizations, like the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), are outraged that Saint Bernards are being bred for their meat and have petitioned the Chinese government to introduce its first animal cruelty laws.

"If a Chinese cannot understand why Swiss people get so upset that they are eating St Bernards, I would ask that same question: If Swiss people eat China's panda, how would Chinese feel?" Grace Ge Gabriel, IFAW China director, told Reuters Television.

We suspect that if pandas were as plentiful (and edible) as dogs, the Chinese would already be eating them. But of course, their standards don't count, only ours do.

Certainly most of us prefer that any animals used for food be raised and killed humanely, but we don't have to look to China to find exceptions to this standard — there are plenty of cows, chickens, pigs, and other food animals being raised and slaughtered in appalling fashion right here in our own backyard. But of course, since we keep dogs as pets, we arrogantly assume we have the moral right to tell the rest of the world what they can do with their dogs. Why worry about the suffering of millions of our own livestock and poultry animals if we can beat up on somebody else for daring to eat dogs? As usual, the issue isn't really about the right of all animals to be treated humanely; it's only about the right of a small subset of cute and endearing animals to be treated humanely.

Last updated:   4 August 2011


    August, Oliver.   "Swiss Protest at China's Taste for St Bernard Stew."

    The [London] Times.   17 February 2001.

    Eckert, Paul.   "Love for St. Bernard Meat Angers Swiss."

    Reuters.   28 March 2001.

    Hall, Allan.   "Call to Rescue St Bernard Dogs from Chinese Dinner Tables."

    The Scotsman.   22 February 2001.

    Rennie, David.   "Protest Over Plight of Doomed St Bernards."

    The [London] Daily Telegraph.   13 February 2001.

    Agence France-Presse.   "Swiss Dog Lovers Outraged by Saint Bernard Stew in China."

      5 February 2001.

    The [London] Evening Standard.   "St Bernards on the Menu."

    6 February 2001.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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