years ago this April, Jill Robinson first walked onto a bear bile farm. On that day in April 1993, Jill could have walked away, but she chose to act and do what she could. Today, you also have a choice. If everyone reading this donated just US$20, it would pay for the care of over 150 bears at our China sanctuary for a full year. Please help us celebrate 20 years of progress. Donate US$20 today (or whatever you can afford).
While it is widely accepted by academics and historians that dog and cat meat have a long history in China, there is little consensus in Korea about the origin of dog and cat meat, with several different theories on its origin. It is believed by many that people began to eat dog meat during the Korean War in the early 1950s when there were nationwide food shortages. Since the end of the hostilities in 1953, dog eating continued as a cottage industry and dog meat was perceived as a health food, possibly because it was a rare source of protein.
However, an article in the “Korean Journal of Food and Nutrition” (1999) claims dog-eating originated during the era of Samkug from 57BC to AD676, declined during Buddhist rule, but reappeared in the1300s. Traditionally, dogs were treated much like other livestock species such as pigs, were fed human faeces, and were considered of much value.
In contrast to China and Vietnam where dog meat is believed to have “warming effects”, in South Korea dog meat is considered to have “cooling effects”, and is most popular during summer months, particularly during the boknal or bok days – the three hottest days of the summer – when dog meat soup (boshintang) is most popular.
Dog meat is also considered by many to have rejuvenating and invigorating effects, and is believed by some to have special properties in promoting male sexual stamina. A number of classical medical texts also recommend dog meat to fortify the spirit and aid in recovery from illness, classifying dog meat as a medicine as well as a food; for example, there are four prescriptions containing dog meat in the Compendium of Materia Medica, the traditional Chinese medicine encyclopaedia, written during the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644). It is still common today for doctors to recommend dog meat to patients who have undergone surgery because of its perceived curative effects.
Today’s Dog Meat Industry According to official figures, over 2 million dogs are raised on farms every year in South Korea, and dog meat products are sold as food or medicine in markets, restaurants or health stores, in an industry worth an estimated $2 billion per year.
Officially, 8,000 dog farms are registered with the Ministry of Environment; however, several thousand unregistered farms are also believed to be in operation. Dog farms range from small “backyard” businesses to supplement other sources of income, to large-scale intensive farms, holding over 1,000 dogs. In addition, stray dogs and abandoned pets supplement the industry, and there are some reports of dogs being illegally imported from China.
Countless reports from animal protection groups in Korea, such as the Korean Association for Animal Rights (KARA) and Coexistence for Animal Rights on Earth (CARE), have documented the pitiful life of a dog on a dog farm. On the farms, dogs are housed in cages and/or tethered with a short rope, often unprotected from the freezing temperatures in the winter and the scorching sun in the summer.
Close confinement denies the dogs the opportunity to live as a social group without fear and intense aggression. Chronic stress is often shown in the form of stereotypic and other abnormal behaviours, and, combined with poor hygiene, leads to regular outbreaks of infectious diseases including parvovirus and distemper, resulting in high mortality rates.
The dogs are fed mostly on human food waste, and there are reports of waste from butchered dogs (e.g. offal), being fed to live dogs.
Some dogs are slaughtered on the farms, but most are sourced from farms at around one year of age to be distributed to slaughterhouses or public markets.
Once dogs arrive at the market, such as the infamous Moran Market, they will stay there, sometimes up to a week, before being slaughtered. Many dogs will die from diseases or through fighting at the market as a result of the dirty and stressful cages in which they are kept.
In the past, strangulation and beating with a hammer or lead pipe were common forms of slaughter, where undercover investigations by groups such as KARA have shown that that it can take a dog up to twenty minutes to die. However, while this still occurs, for efficiency, electrocution is now the most common method used, where a single electrode is forced into the dog’s mouth.
Is the Dog Meat Industry Legal in South Korea? The sale of dog meat was technically outlawed in Korea in 1984, when the Ministry of Health and Society introduced a ban on the sale of dog meat in preparation for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, in response to international condemnation, under the Operational Rule relating to the Ministerial Ordinance of the Food Sanitation Act of 1962. However, there was little political commitment to the ban, and, in November 1996, a Korean Court of Appeal decided against this ruling, allowing dog meat to be eaten despite the legislation.i
As it stands today, the dog meat industry is neither legal nor illegal in South Korea. Dogs are classified as “domestic animals” under the Livestock Act (1963) and are not included in the list of livestock under the Livestock Processing Act (1962). The exclusion of dogs from the list of livestock in the Livestock Processing Act seems to indicate that there is no explicit recognition of dogs as a meat source. While the omission of dogs from the list of livestock in the Livestock Processing Act appears to indicate that dogs are not recognised as a meat source, this has not resulted in a ban on the raising and slaughtering of dogs for food.
In Korea there is a widely held belief that there are two types of dogs – “pet” dogs and “meat” dogs; sadly the Animal Protection Act reinforces this perception by only conferring protection to “pet” dogs and not prohibiting the dog meat industry, lending further justification to the industry.
Simply put, it is not illegal to raise and slaughter dogs for consumption, as long as it does not violate the general anti-cruelty provisions of the Animal Protection Amendment Act of 2007 (Article 7), which prohibits “an act of killing in a cruel way such as hanging” and “an act of killing in an open area such as on the street or in front of other animals of the same kind watching”.
The amendment also introduced a breeder-licensing system whereby any person wishing to breed, import or sell animals needs to be registered. To obtain a licence the breeder needs to meet certain conditions with regard to hygiene and animal protection or face a fine or revocation of the licence. This measure, if implemented by the local government, could force dog breeders to improve welfare standards on farms although to do this effectively is not likely to be cost-effective. However, there is sadly little motivation for existing regulations to be enforced by the local authorities.
Possibility of Legalisation? The Livestock Act and the Livestock Processing Act are at the centre of policy discussion in relation to the legalisation of dog meat in Korea, as the pro-dog meat lobby pushes for dogs to be classified as livestock, which would make Korea the first country in the world to legalise the dog meat industry.
Since November 1996, there have been several attempts to legalise the dog meat industry, for example:
In 1999, former National Assembly member Kim Hong-Shin attempted to include certain slaughter dogs in the definition of “livestock” through a livestock processing amendment bill on the basis that classification would make the industry more hygienic and improve the welfare of dogs raised for food.
In 2002, following publicity concerning hygiene and wastewater problems from dog-breeding farms, the Korean government announced a proposal to fix the hygiene problem without classifying dogs as livestock by including dogs in regulations on inspecting animals that are not livestock but are raised and consumed by humans. If passed, this would have led to the commercial slaughter and processing of dogs as is currently legislated for other non-livestock animals in Korea, such as ostrich and badgers. Again, this amendment received widespread opposition and was not implemented.
In 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry proposed an amendment to the 1991 Animal Protection Act containing a passage recognised by Korea Animal Protection Society founder Sunnan Kum as a backdoor attempt to legalise dog meat by classifying certain dogs as pets within the definition of animals. Fortunately this was not adopted in the final text.
In March 2008, the Mayor of Seoul announced a further plan to forward a policy suggestion to the central government to amend the Livestock Processing Act to legally classify slaughter dogs as livestock. However, following strong opposition from the anti dog meat lobby, the Mayor retracted his proposal.
It is only because of the tireless and sustained pressure from local animal protection groups that the dog meat industry in South Korea has not been legalised. However, there is a worrying movement by authorities to avoid this obstacle by regulating other aspects of the industry, such as waste disposal, without actually legalising dog meat production.
Public Opinion Since the 1980s, there has been a large amount of international (western) condemnation of the Korean dog meat industry, including FIFA’s demand for a ban in preparation for the 2002 World Cup, co-hosted by South Korea. Sadly this was unsuccessful and angered many Koreans, believing it was wrong for the international community to criticise what by many is considered a Korean tradition, and is consequently fiercely defended by the majority of Koreans; for example, while the majority of Koreans do not consume dog meat, the majority support the industry, believing it to be a Korean’s right to eat dog meat.
Opinion polls show that, in the current climate, the prohibition of dog farming would be met with much greater and fiercer public opposition than the full legalisation of dog farming. For example, a 2008 opinion poll showed that 70.8% of respondents believed that dogs should be classified as livestock and 27.1% opposed to the classification of dogs as livestock. This is despite the fact that only a minority of Koreans consume dog meat.
However, as pet ownership increases rapidly in Korea, with one in every five households now raising a pet, opposition to the dog meat industry is on the rise, and the animal rights movement is expanding and becoming a stronger force. For example, in June 2011, a dog meat festival planned to take place at Moran Market, Korea’s largest dog meat market, was cancelled following an enormous amount of public protest.
It is thought that cats were kept traditionally to control rodent populations, however in the 1980s a cat consumable product was marketed as treating rheumatism and arthritis. Despite the availability of this product, observations at live-animal markets show the number of cats sold for food to be considerably lower than the number of dogs.
In 2003, “Animal People” estimated the number of cats consumed annually in Korea to be 100,000.ii In contrast to attitudes towards the dog meat industry, a 2008 MORI survey found that 81% of respondents were against the use of cats as food for humans and 79% supported a ban on cat-eating. Interestingly, some 52 per cent of people also opposed the keeping of cats as pets.
All photos courtesy of WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals)
i Podberscek, A.L. (2009). Good to Pet and Eat: the Keeping and Consuming of Dogs and Cats in South Korea. Journal of Social Issues, Vol 65, No 3, pp615-632
ii Bartlett, K. Dog and cat eating in Asia. Animal People, Sept 2003