Pet Blind Boxes in China
Recently, a group of animal rights activists exposed the bloody facts of the industry of “pet blind box” in Southwestern China, which drew strong attention from netizens in China. This week, there are a lot of discussions on the Internet about the lawfulness of the “pet blind box”. This article discusses the fact of the “pet blind box” and the legality.
156 cats and dogs found in boxes at a logistics center in Chengdu
Volunteers from Chengdu Love Home Animal Rescuing Centre found workers at the delivery station had packaged a total of 156 cats and dogs into separate boxes before couriering them in vans. It only costs 20-30 yuan (US$3.10 to US$4.64) to buy a pet mystery box, sometimes as cheap as only 9.9 yuan (US$1.53). All the cubs are in the ages between 1 and 3 months. After local police arrived, volunteers worked throughout the night to transport the puppies and kittens to local shelters and animal hospitals to be quarantined, and a number of the animals had tested positive for canine or feline diseases.
After the exposure to the public, the “pet blind box” receive a lot of criticism and discussion from the netizens and the most influential official media in China, including CCTV, Xinhua Net, China Daily, Global Times, and People’s Daily.
Blooming development of blind box toys in China
The “blind box,” “mystery box,” “opaque gift boxes,” or “lucky packages” originated from Japan, as known as the "mini-figures.” The inventory of a blind box was designed to satisfy the curiosity and the desire to collect from the customers. When the customers buy a blind box, they will get a random one from a series of designs and may have the chance to get a mysterious one. They cannot know the specific design of the gift until they open the sealed boxes, and they enjoy the uncertainty and the surprise. The blind box lovers may buy multiple boxes and trade with others to collect all designs.
The blind box industry is growing extremely fast in China especially among young adults. More and more young adults have become designer toy consumers in China. POP MART, the largest blind box toy company and the leader of the Chinese designer toy market in China, launched its initial public offering(IPO) at 38.5 HK$ a share seeking to raise 674 million dollars in December 2020.
However, it is disappointing that some business sells counterfeit and shoddy products disguised by using blind boxes. The consumer will not know the actual quantity nor the quality of the products. The idea of “random” and “curiosity” of the blind box is abused by these producers to avoid the liability for the quality of the products.
What are the “pet blind boxes”?
The “pet blind boxes” is the online selling of pets. The breeders, puppy mills, and cat mills use the blind boxes to sell cheap cats and dogs on online platforms with no guarantee of breed, price, or health status. The sellers do not accept returns and exchanges if the consumer is not satisfied with the pets, and if the pets die during the transportation, the sellers will resend another box or send the refund. Since January, stores offering blind boxes containing all kinds of animals have been active on e-commerce platforms Taobao and Pinduoduo.
The animals sold in these stores include dogs, cats, turtles, and even spiders. The sellers claim the customers may get the offspring of expensive breeds, but usually, the consumers will get the rural mongrel cats and dogs. Many cubs die or get sick during long-distance transportation in small and opaque boxes. They may suffer from lacking oxygen, food and water, and die of suffocation, dehydration, and starvation. The logistics accidents are fatal for these small animals. In September 2020, in an accident of logistics, at least 5,000 pets were found dead in cardboard shipping boxes in Central China, including live rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, and dogs. Therefore, the “pet blind box” got another name of “pet dead box.”
By Chengdu Love Home Animal Rescuing Centre
By Chengdu Love Home Animal Rescuing Centre
Chinese regulations and liability
Under the Postal Law of the People’s Republic of China (2009), and the Implementing Regulations of the Postal Law, it is clear that all living animals cannot be sent or carried in the mail. (Article 33(6) of the Implementing Regulation of the Postal Law). Article 75 of the Postal Law regulates the liability of delivery of the prohibited items for both the users, and the postal/courier company, but the law does not specify the related responsibilities for mailing living animals. On the other hand, the enforcement is relatively weak as the prohibition is stated in the regulation instead of in the law. In this situation, mailing living animals is a violation of Postal Law but without specific punishment under this law.
Provisional Regulations on Express Delivery (2018) stipulates the rules for express delivery of the violation of the prohibited items according to the Postal Law Article 24, but there is no specific provision on mailing living animals.
Under the Law of Animal Epidemic Prevention (2021), the rules for cats and dogs are not regulated at a national level. Dog breeders shall register at the local registration authority with the immunization certificate of rabies, and specific measures for the prevention and management of breeding dogs shall be formulated by provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the Central Government. (Article 30) The transportation of animals is covered by Chapter 5 Quarantine of animals and animal products. The law requires a quarantine certificate and the carrier for filing. The liabilities for violation of these rules are stipulated in Articles 97, 98, 100, 101, and 102. This law sets the provisions for transportation of all animals, but there are no specific rules for companion animals except for Article 30 (Local Rules). This law does not cover mailing living animals, and whether the mailing living animal can be considered as transportation is unclear under this law.
The Biosafety Law (2020) has the general statement of “no unit or individual shall endanger biological safety” and the right to report provision in Article 8. The state protects wild animals, strengthens animal epidemic prevention, and prevents the spread of animal-borne infectious diseases. (Article 32). The Biosafety Law has regulations on transportation of “rare, endangered, endemic species” and shipping and mailing from abroad. Although the general provision may apply to the situation, the shipping and mailing of other animals inside China is not covered by this law.
Under the Infectious Disease Prevention and Control Law (2004), The infectious diseases prescribed by this law are divided into categories A, B, and C, and plague is listed in category A, rabies in category B. (Article 3). Zoonotic disease control is regulated in Article 25 and wild animals, livestock, and poultry can only be sold and transported after passing the quarantine. (Article 25.2) The administrative penalty of selling and transporting wild animals, livestock, and poultry without quarantine is covered in Article 75. However, selling and transporting domestic animals are not covered by either Article 25.2 or Article 75. Article 77 provides a general provision of civil liability for leading to the spread and epidemic of infectious diseases when causing damage to the person or property of others.
Pets as “products” or “personal property” can be protected under the Product Quality Law and Consumer Interests Protection Law. But there is no specific regulation on living animals. There is no animal welfare law or anti-cruelty law in mainland China, which makes it harder to protect the animals.
According to the analysis above, we can find that it is illegal to mail living animals (Postal Law) or transport animals without proper procedure and immune certification (Law of Animal Epidemic Prevention). The administrative liabilities are under the discretion of the administrative agency. It is difficult to pursue other legal responsibilities as the law does not specify in the area of protection of living companion animals. On the contrary, with the help of the general principles or provisions of Biosafety Law, Product Quality Law, and Consumer Interests Protection Law, there might be other ways to solve the problems.