BUSAN, South Korea––Attempting to invoke lightly enforced existing laws to try to close the Gupo and Nopodong live markets in Busan, South Korea, the Korea Alliance for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was on February 9, 2014 disappointed by a purportedly slow and ineffective police response to a complaint about multiple violations that were observed in progress at the Gupo market.
Yet the police came, a significant change from the official indifference of decades past. The alleged offenses occurred in front of newly posted government notices that slaughtering dogs and cats in the markets is illegal. And the police presence at least temporarily interrupted business as usual.
“As we were following a truck full of dogs moving through the market, we saw a dog slaughterhouse butcher taking a dog out of the cage and hanging him by the neck,” KAPCA translator April Kim posted to the Asian Animal Protection Network. “This slaughterhouse has illegally occupied land owned by the Busan Northern District government for the past 20 years. We immediately called the police in Korea and reported the animal cruelty. The police finally showed up after 20 minutes. However, by that time the crime scene had already been cleaned up. So, the police just left, saying there was no evidence to bring any charges. They just parked their police car nearby and did not even get out of the car. When we reported the violations, we gave them the physical descriptions of the violators, but they did not even bother to investigate. As a result of the police car parked nearby, the vendors who were selling animals one by one left the area. After all the illegal vendors had left the area, the police called us to come check the area again, saying that there were no illegal animal-selling vendors.
“We also filed a civil complaint about the dog-hanging case to the Busan BukBu Police,” Kim said.
Representatives of the Busan Geumjeong-gu District Economic Employment Department in early January 2014 posted signs at the Gupo and Nopodong live markets warning that illegal animal slaughter animals may be punished with up to seven years in prison or a fine of up to 100,000,000 Korean won, and that illegally selling dogs, cats, and rabbits may bring a fine of up to 1,000,000 Korean won.
The fines would be equivalent to $91,000 and $910, respectively.
But after moving the signs, the butchers continued operating as usual, KAPCA members posted to Facebook after a visit to the market on January 12, 2014. “In addition, illegal slaughter was still taking place and the bodies of dead dogs were displayed in the stalls. Hence, our planning team reported this to the district office and the police. The district office responded by coming out to the markets,” where they replaced the warning signs.
KAPCA in 2013 pressed charges against a dog butcher for killing dogs with a sledge hammer. However, the butcher was acquitted in early February 2014, after the Gijang police department concluded that killing livestock by sledge hammer is permitted under the Korean Animal Protection Act enforcement regulations, since sledge hammers have traditionally been used to kill cattle and pigs (and were still commonly used for that purpose in the U.S. before the passage of the federal Humane Slaughter Act in 1958).
Since dogs are not legally listed as a “food animal” in Korea, KAPCA pointed out, “the police and the prosecutor have incorrectly applied the law.” KAPCA appealed the verdict, with supporting statements from the Korean Animal Welfare Association Korea Animal Rights Advocates.
Charges remain pending against Jeon Oo, 53, who was charged in January 2014 with allegedly slaughtering dogs by cruel methods at an illegal slaughterhouse and improperly disposing of slaughter waste in a river.
“Jeon is accused of setting up an unlicensed temporary building and slaughtering dogs while other dogs are watching for 3 years since March 2010,” KAPCA translator April Kim posted to the Asian Animal Protection Network. “Police investigation revealed that Jeon has been slaughtering 50-60 dogs per month and selling them to a nearby dog meat restaurant at 250,000-300,000 Korean won per dog,” worth about $225 to $275.
KAPCA on January 9, 2014 appealed to the federal Ministry of Food and Drug Safety seeking closure of the Moran Market for public health reasons. The Moran Market, near Seoul, sells the most dogs and cats for meat of any in South Korea.
The federal response argued that government agencies can do nothing while selling dog and cat meat remains illegal. This was essentially the same paradoxical claim that South Korean government agencies have made for more than 20 years.
The Ministry of Food & Drug Safety acknowledged that livestock “must be slaughtered and processed at licensed, sanitary slaughterhouses and veterinarians or qualified inspectors must inspect” the carcasses.
But “dogs are not regarded as livestock under the Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act,” the ministry reminded, “which makes it unnecessary to monitor that the slaughtering and processing is done in a sanitary manner. Dog meat is currently not approved as food. However, Koreans have been cooking and eating dogs for a long time, so we are not prohibiting the cooking and selling of dog meat at restaurants.”
The Ministry of Food & Drug Safety statement, not attributed to any specific person, was contradicted on February 23, 2014 by Jin-Sun Kim, president of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, scheduled to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “There would have been some people eating dog meat back in past days, maybe during the 1988 at the Seoul Olympics, but now I do not see anyone eating dog meat,” Kim Jin-sun told the Reuters news agency. “There is no practice of eating dogs in Korea. Koreans love animals,” Kim Jin-sun insisted, “so this cannot be an issue.”