Yes, you can eat dog or cat for lunch in most states. Or dinner. Or anytime.
Unless Congress acts on a new plan that would subject anyone who kills those animals for human consumption to a jail term and up to a $2,500 fine.
The House farm bill, approved this week by the House Agriculture Committee, would apply those penalties to anyone who knowingly slaughtered a cat or dog for human consumption.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., sponsored the provision, and had a quick explanation for why.
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“You shouldn’t be able to kill somebody’s pets and eat them,” he said.
Denham cited an incident 10 years ago, when a Hawaii man’s pet dog was stolen from a golf course and reportedly killed by two men to eat. The men pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges. One served three months in jail and the other got five years probation.
Denham also pointed to a Pennsylvania man who in 2003 was caught breeding 150 Jindo dogs, a dog breed commonly sold for meat and pelts in South Korea. He told humane officers the animals were bred as guard dogs and for meat. Authorities shut down the kennel due to unsanitary conditions.
Ths isn’t Denham’s first pet-centric legislative effort. He repeatedly sponsored legislation, which became law in 2015, to allow domesticated pets to travel with their owners on certain Amtrak trains. He was inspired to push the bill after not being allowed to bring his pet French bulldog Lily onto an Amtrak train.
But is a ban on killing dogs and cats for consumption needed?
Some agriculture committee members scoffed at the idea, with Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., asking if people really eat cats and dogs in the U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said this is “not a problem in the United States of America” and said Denham was “burning our time.”
Marty Irby (no relation to author), the senior adviser to the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said his and other animal rights groups have been talking with Denham for months about pushing the legislation since the congressman is “one of the top Republicans on animal welfare issues” and a member of the committee writing the farm bill.
While Irby said it is important to make sure this practice isn’t happening in this country, he said sending a message worldwide was a “major factor” behind the push for the measure. Humane Society officials have said using dogs and cats for human consumption is still common in certain Asian countries such as China and South Korea.
“With the work of our international arm, which tries to stop this practice that’s especially common in parts of Asia, we’ve had instances when these countries say, ‘Well, why are you talking to us when this is still legal in your own country?’” Irby said.
The practice is already against the law in California, New York, Virginia, Hawaii, Georgia and Michigan, with Pennsylvania considering legislation. Some of those state laws are limited just to dogs and cats, while others include any traditional household pets.
Still, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., was skeptical about the idea that people should be sent to federal prison over the offense.
“There are certain ethnicities and nationalities where the tradition in their home countries is that these animals are consumed. Then they come here, and they get involved in a dog that gets sold,” Goodlatte said. “I wouldn’t condone that in any way, shape or form, but to send them to federal prison for doing that?”
But there’s considerable support for a ban. Reps. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Dave Trott, R-Mich., and Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.. have pushed legislation supported by 236 other House members, but has gone nowhere since it was introduced last year.
“It’s about sending a message, not just in the country but worldwide,” said Denham, “that we’re going to be one of those countries that protects our pets.”