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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher May 8, 2020

Evidence lacking that cats eaten as COVID-19 cure

If Your Time is short

  • Cats are eaten in Vietnam, but there is no evidence of widespread killing and consuming of black cats as a treatment for COVID-19.

  • The news service that first published a story on the claim withdrew its story after questions were raised about how widespread any such practice is.

Cats and dogs have long been a controversial part of the cuisine for some in Vietnam.

But a new claim circulating online says that people there are eating black cats as a treatment for COVID-19.

Tabloid news sites including the Toronto Sun, the New York Post, the U.S. Sun and Vietnam Insider published stories saying black cats are being "collected, killed and their bodies ground up as a supposed coronavirus treatment."

Each of the stories in some way attributed its information to the South West News Service, which describes itself as a "UK- and US-based news and media content agency with a proud 40-year history."

These stories and other posts with the same claim were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

With fewer than 300 reported cases and zero deaths, Vietnam has been highlighted for its response to COVID-19, which included strict quarantining and intensive testing. Much of the country has reopened, with children returning to school May 4.

While Vietnam has grappled with real issues related to animal welfare, experts we spoke to say they haven’t found widespread evidence that black cats are being killed and turned into a paste to treat COVID-19.

The news service that generated the story said it has removed the article from circulation amid concerns about its credibility.

Here’s what we know.

On April 17, The Sun, a tabloid in the United Kingdom and Ireland, published a story that reported on an investigation by an animal rights group called Four Paws. According to the story, the group said it examined dining app data and found that dog and cat meat sales were surging through dining app delivery services in Cambodia and Vietnam. The story surmised that "doctors in the region are encouraging many to eat dog and cat meat, claiming its properties help fight off viruses."

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A week later, on April 23 and 24, stories credited to the South West News Service were published elsewhere that had a similar storyline, but took the claim further to suggest black cats are being singled out, turned into paste and consumed as medicine. 

Pictures credited to South West News Service accompanied some versions of the online stories. But the captions were vague and the images hard to verify. They included, for example, a photo of a baby drinking from a bottle that appears to contain a black substance. "This distressing image shows a baby reportedly being fed the black cat concoction," the caption said.

The stories’ only source appeared to be the head of another charity, No to Dog Meat, based in London. We reached out to that group for evidence. They sent us to their YouTube account which includes four videos uploaded in April and May that claim in captions or titles to show cat mistreatment in Vietnam but which included no verifiable information about exactly where or when they were taken.

Asked about the black cat claim, Cat Besch, founder and director of Hanoi-based Vietnam Animal Aid & Rescue, told PolitiFact she has seen "zero evidence in Vietnam so far that this is true."

Nam Nguyen, an editor in Vietnam with the government-run Vietnam News Agency, told PolitiFact "the rumor has been around these weeks and originated from one post in Thailand social media, but as far as I know, Vietnamese are not so superstitious like other nations in southeast Asia to practice those ancient rites." He said the post has been deleted.

Phuong Tham, director of Human Society International in Vietnam, told PolitiFact that black cats are being killed there "by people with lack of knowledge, believing that black cats' bones can treat asthma in children, while others kill them for superstitious beliefs," but "we have seen no evidence that black cats in Vietnam are being killed for COVID-19 treatment."

Tham and Dr. Todd Pollack, Harvard University medical professor and country director in Hanoi of the Partnership for Health Advancement in Vietnam, said it is significant that they had not seen the claim reported by news organizations in Vietnam.

VN Express, a newspaper in Vietnam, reported that on May 6, police in Nghe An province seized 630 kilograms of dog, cat carcasses and entrails of other animals from a passenger bus. The driver said the meat was being taken to Hanoi for consumption, according to the report. But the report contains no suggestion the meat was being used for treatment of coronavirus.

When we reached out to South West News Service about the source of the information, the agency told PolitiFact that "shortly after publication, we identified a number of issues with this story and pulled it from our service. We received new information which led us to doubt the widespread nature of the claims the charity had made on this issue."

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Toronto Sun, "'Cruelty' in reports black cats killed for COVID-19 cure," April 24, 2020

Email, No To Dog Meat, May 2, 2020

Email, South West News Service picture editor Jon Mills, May 6, 2020

International Business Times, "Following false claims, people in Vietnam try black cat paste to ward off coronavirus," April 24, 2020

Email, Phuong Tham, the director of Human Society International ni Vietnam, May 4, 2020

YouTube, No To Dog Meat channel, accessed May 6, 2020

YouTube, "Black Cats tortured in Vietnam," posted and accessed May 6, 2020

YouTube, "Cao Ngựa Bạch Bắc Giang Cao Mèo Đen Nguyên Chất 2," posted May 5, 2020, and accessed May 6, 2020

Email, Ho Chi Minh City-based journalist Michael Tatarski, May 4, 2020

USA Today, "Eating dogs and cats banned in U.S. in House-passed bill," Sept. 13, 2018

South China Morning Post, "‘It’s sweeter and tenderer than dog meat’: Vietnam’s taste for cat leaves pets in peril," accessed May 4, 2020

Email, Le Quyen Duong, an epidemiologist in Ho Chi Minh City with the World Mosquito Program, May 4, 2020

Email, Tuan Bendixsen, Vietnam director of Animals Asia, May 5, 2020

BBC News, "Vietnamese capital Hanoi asks people not to eat dog meat," Sept. 12, 2018

Reuters, "Vietnam introduces 'fake news' fines for coronavirus misinformation," April 14, 2020

Reuters, "Fancy felines hit Hanoi for first ever cat show," Feb. 16, 2020

Email, San Francisco State University medical and cultural anthropologist Martha Lincoln, May 3, 2020

Email, Nam Nguyen, news editor, Vietnam News Agency, May 4, 2020

Email, Thaveeporn Vasavakul, lead specialist for Southeast Asia with the Governance Support Facility Initiatives for the 21st Century, a governance research group, May 4, 2020

Email, Cat Besch, founder and director of Hanoi-based Vietnam Animal Aid & Rescue, May 4, 2020

The Mirror, "No To Dog Meat loses complaint against Mirror article about ‘missing’ donations," Aug. 11, 2016

Newsweek, "Eating Cats And Dogs Banned In A Second City In China In Wake Of Covid-19 Pandemic," April 15, 2020

Email, Dr. Todd Pollack, Harvard University medical professor and country director in Hanoi of the Partnership for Health Advancement in Vietnam, May 4, 2020 

VN Express, "Police find 630 kg of dog and cat carcasses on Vietnam bus," May 7, 2020

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Evidence lacking that cats eaten as COVID-19 cure

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