I'm going to look at the POLICY aspects of a very difficult subject, so please bear with me as I think through this issue.
At the outset let me note that this topic makes me a bit queasy. It is a difficult topic because it touches many different emotional chords. I can well understand, at the rational level, that man has the biological capacity to eat virtually anything, and has done so ever since his evolution from (possibly) a vegetarian ape. Also, therefore, that eating a particular animal meat is ultimately a matter of historical accident.
And yet, the thought of eating an unfamiliar animal (which one has not eaten since childhood, say) can create quite seriously queasy sensations in any person (I'm excluding vegetarians from this group who probably feel queasy even at the thought of eating an egg).
This is all so inconvenient, so steeped in irrationality. And these queasy feelings are not to be treated lightly. These can give rise to a strong sense of taboo and revulsion, which can create great differences among people, differences that are impossible to bridge through rational discourse, differences that can potentially lead to great violence among men. Just because they eat different foods.
Food is that important. That emotive.
What does all this imply for public policy? Well, that's the question before us.
Everyone knows that in India (among Hindus), cow meat is anathema. The cow is held to be sacred (despite the many debates/ disputes about this claim). And yet in parts of India (e.g. Meghalaya, where I worked for about a year and half; and in Mizoram) beef is widely eaten and commonly sold in small butcher shops (e.g. along the main road in Shillong).
And all over the world, cow meat is treated as a prime delicacy. The Japanese even eat raw cow meat (prime kobe beef can cost up to $700 per kilo).
On the other hand, dog meat (which creates great revulsion in the West) is also eaten in parts of India, in particular in Nagaland but also in some other NE states. I have mentioned before on this blog (in some other context) how a Minister from Nagaland was grateful to be "allowed" to collect stray dogs from the Guwahati Circuilt House in 1984 (a place for which I had responsibility for the allocation of rooms and maintenance). I recall the Minister's jeep going off blaring its siren, with a few barking dogs stowed away in at the back of the jeep, on the way to Dimapur. I learnt later that Naga tribals eat virtually anything that moves, including all kinds of birds. Among various meats, dog meat is a delicacy.
This culture of eating dogs probably comes from Eastern Asia where dog meat is largely considered to be a delicacy (see this Wikipedia entry).
And yet, while most people in the West think it to be odd that (most) Hindus don't eat beef, they immediately forget that they have similar (or stronger) queasy feelings when considering the thought of someone eating dog meat.
One man's meat is ACTUALLY another man's poison.
In Australia you can eat and sell kangaroo, deer and rabbit meat but you'd be imprisoned if you offer dog meat for sale:
In most states and territories [in Australia] it is not an offence to eat cats and dogs. South Australia is the only state which definitively prohibits the consumption of meat derived from a cat or dog, including the killing of a cat or dog for such purpose (see below table).
The sale of cat and dog meat however, is prohibited in all states and territories under the various statutes which govern the production of meat. While these laws do not expressly state that selling cat and dog meat is an offence, the effect of the regulatory regimes they create serves to achieve this end. A person or business that processes meat intended for sale and human consumption must be registered or licensed under the relevant state or territory meat production legislation. A condition of this registration or licence is that the particular meat processing complies with a Regulation or an adopted Standard or Code.
In the face of all this confusion, here's a thoughtful editorial from China Daily:
People in China have been eating dog meat for a long time, even though it's a relatively expensive affair. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), King Goujian of the Yue Kingdom, before going to war against the Wu Kingdom, awarded dogs to women who gave birth to boys and pigs to those who gave birth to girls. Dog meat cost more than pork even then.
Many consider dog meat not only a delicacy, but also to have medicinal properties. Bencao Gangmu (or Compendium of Materia Medica), the seminal work of medical and pharmaceutical expert Li Shizhen of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), describes dog meat as warm, yang-nourishing and especially beneficial for the kidneys and stomach.
Instead of finger-pointing at each, people grown up in different cultures should be more open-minded.
Dietary habits differ from country to country and region to region, and there cannot be a rule of thumb for all. Some dog lovers distinguish dogs from other animals because of their intelligence and special relationship with humans.
But there are similar many stories about cows, horses, sheep and pigs, too.
How can it be morally and culturally acceptable to eat pork, chicken, mutton, beef, fish and other animals but not dog meat?
No matter how one thinks about it, there is no ONE correct rule on this matter, no logical method by which to pick certain animals for our food, and other animals for our worship. Regretfully I must agree that the Chinese Daily is correct.
The only sensible course, therefore, for governments is to regulate ONLY for health outcomes, not for the kind of (animal) meat eaten. All that a government can do is to regulate for prevention of cruelty to animals, including at the time of slaughter (if applicable), failing which appropriate punishment could be imposed. But the people of the "secular" West want more:
RSPCA Australia believes the consumption of cat and dog meat should be expressly prohibited in statute. Cats and dogs hold a specific place in Australian society as companion animals. Eating cats and dogs is therefore offensive to mainstream Australian cultural values. [Source]
I'm afraid I'm unable to distinguish this argument from the argument made by Baba Ramdev to ban cow slaughter in India, or the arguments made by any typical Hindu fanatic. I would argue that if RSPCA wants to prohibit cat and dog meat (not that I wish to eat these!), then it must FIRST demand the prohibition of beef, kangaroo meat, goat and sheep meat, chicken and rabbit meat. And fish.
Let this be known clearly: there is NO coherent logical argument to pick between animals.
Either ALL animal meat must be prohibited, or NONE.