Cages and slaughtering facilities coming down now
SEOUL, South Korea––The Seongnam city government and the vendors’ association of Moran Market, representing 22 dog and cat meat dealers whose stalls occupy four short blocks on one side of the marketplace, on December 13, 2016 jointly announced plans to start removing their cages and slaughtering facilities immediately, and to be completely out of the dog and cat meat business by May.
Reported the Korea Herald, “The city will provide financial support for them to refurbish their shops for new businesses. The agreement came as part of the city’s project to remodel the traditional open-air market,” in hopes of creating not only a better environment for business, but a tourist attraction Seongnam can be proud of.
Already the Moran Market has expanded to accommodate as many as 1,200 vendors, up from about 200 in earlier years, when it was divided into quarters, each with about 50 vendors, among whom the 50-odd dog meat vendors had the most weekday cash turnover.
“We will ultimately stop the dog meat trade”
“Starting off with the removal of slaughtering facilities and cages in the market, we will ultimately stop the dog meat trade in Moran Market,” affirmed Seongnam city official Kang Won-gu.
Recapped the Korea Herald, “Moran Market, built in 1962 on waste land, started to gain its reputation during the 1980s as ‘the traditional market within the city’ due to its proximity to Seoul.” Now selling “almost everything from live animals to antiques,” the Moran Market “has seen at least 80,000 dogs sold either dead or alive each year,” the Korea Herald said. “It supplies one third of all dog meat consumed in the country. Live dogs are kept in cages for customers to choose. They are then slaughtered at the market in plain sight.”
Said Seongnam mayor Lee Jae-myung, who has caught political flak for not ending dog meat sales at the Moran Market sooner, “This may be the beginning of solving issues surrounding dog meat consumption.”
Historically, one of the biggest issues surrounding dog meat consumption was that since most Koreans have never eaten dogs or cats, most were until recently barely aware of the dog meat industry, the relatively tiny cat meat industry, and the cruelties associated with both.
While everything done at the Moran Market and other dog meat markets has mostly been done in plain view of passers-by, the markets––as elsewhere in the parts of Asia where dogs are eaten––tended to be located in neighborhoods where most people not personally involved in the industry ever go.
Much like slaughterhouses for poultry, pigs, and cattle, the dog meat vendors have until recently killed dogs––and cats––out of sight and mind of most of the public. Dog and cat meat is not sold in supermarkets, is not consumed as a dietary staple, and is on the menus only of restaurants specializing in it, which themselves tend to be the bad parts of town.
This described the Moran Market neighborhood too, until relatively recently. As Japan Visitor recounted, “The Moran Market is open-air, and just as well. The overpowering smell of singed dog fur permeates the air, mingling with the more familiar scent of unsinged dog fur coming from the narrow cages where the still living animals await the edge of the hatchet and the blast of the blowtorch. Even just stopping to look will elicit cries of “Move on, move on.”
Some tourist guides today hopefully tout visits to the Moran Traditional Market, as it is now called, mentioning in passing that, as Stars & Stripes put it in July 2013, “Many foreigners find the selling and eating of dog tragic. The aisle can easily be avoided. It can be found by taking your first right, into the market when coming from Moran subway station exit 5.”
The Moran Market has also become associated with squalor, exploitation of women and animals, and human tragedy among Koreans, in part through a short story by award-winning author Do-sang Jeong, “The Woman in Moran Market,” published in 2005.
As the Moran Market has grown and begun to go upscale, the Seongnam city government has begun trying to improve the Moran neighborhood, and now officially sees the existence of the dog meat traffic as part of what needs to go, along with dilapidated buildings and crime.
Anti-dog meat activism in South Korea started with the creation of the first indigenous humane societies in the post-World War II and Korean War era, soon after the 1987 fall of the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship opened the way for non-governmental institutions to organize.
Nearly 15 years of almost continuous warfare, followed by a succession of dictatorships, had obliterated the remnants and most of the influence of earlier humane societies founded in Seoul and Inchon by Christian missionaries and Buddhist monks.
These earlier humane societies did not address dog-eating, apparently, because their few surviving annual reports, while documenting other animal issues, make no mention of dog-eating even existing in Korea during the first four decades of the twentieth century.
While occasional undercover investigations of the Moran Market and other dog meat markets produced some visual images, the first extensive documentation of the whole of the Moran Market came when ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton, two photographers, and a local activist on May 19, 2001 spent more than two hours openly gathering images of the entire scene and every animal and vendor present. The resulting 86-photo mosaic permitted doing the first complete count of the Moran Market animal inventory, and thereby the first estimate of the extent of the commerce.
Previous investigators had worked undercover in fear of possible violence.
On that occasion, however, the dog meat vendors first tried intimidation tactics, next tried to provoke Clifton into a violent response with pushing, shoving, and finally a running head-butt from behind, and then appealed for help to the vendors and customers in the other parts of the Moran Market.
None responded. Most just turned their backs, pretending not to hear.
The message was self-evident: though the dog meat sellers had long been the unchallenged neighborhood bullies, they had no real friends, not even among the police, who also turned their backs.
The first South Korean activist efforts to put the images in front of the public via sidewalk demonstrations and subway placards began a few months later.
Grassroots South Korean activism against the dog meat trade had increased exponentially by 2014, when more South Korean organizations sent representatives to the Asia for Animals conference in Singapore than there had been visible pro-animal activists before 2001.
New video exposés of the Moran Market and other dog meat-selling venues have been posted to social media almost continuously in recent years, and the major question about the future of the dog meat industry has no longer been whether it can survive, but rather, how soon will it collapse?
Exulted Soi Dog Foundation president John Dalley, who in 2014 helped broker a deal to suspend transborder dog traffic among Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, “This is yet more encouraging progress in the fight to end the Asian dog meat trade forever.”
Cautioned Korean Animal Welfare Association spokesperson Jang In-young, “Seongnam city took a big step toward changing the dog meat industry here. But we will have to constantly monitor dog meat shops in the market to ensure that they really stop slaughtering dogs and change their businesses. The city government will also need to keep pushing the idea to ultimately ban the sales of dog meat.”
“Consumption has declined”
Noted BBC News, “While some see dog meat as part of Korean culinary tradition,” though authentic Korean cuisine originates from a long history of Buddhist vegetarianism, “consumption has declined sharply in recent years, with the same period seeing a large rise in pet ownership.”
The most recent media surveys of the Moran Market , done in 2013, found about a third less inventory, and by implication less sales volume, than in 2001, when turnover was about 300-400 dogs per day, from a daily stock of about 1,100 dogs.
The official history of what is now called the “Moran Traditional Market” holds that the marketplace “began from a figure called Kim Chang-suk who came to South Korea, leaving her mother alone in Pyeongyang, North Korea. As she was developing the area near the current Moran Market, she named it Moran (meaning peony flower), since the area reminded her of Peony Peak in Pyeongyang, making her miss her mother.”
This is possible, not least because dog-eating appears to have spread south from China into what is now North Korea, and then into South Korea within the past two generations.
The modern-day Moran Market, built with most of the rest of Seongnam in the early 1960s, came to host the largest collection of dog meat vendors in South Korea at a time when eating dogs was expanding from the gangster subculture into transient popularity among a generation of business men now mostly retired or deceased.
Even then, however, entrepreneurs involved in the dog meat trade often got out of the business as soon as they could.
Today the Seongnam civic authorities and most of the Moran Traditional Market merchants clearly prefer that the location be associated with peonies. But, while the dog meat vendors remain, “It is hard to hide the fact that Moran Market was popular for selling dog meat,” recently observed Korea Herald writer Park Hyong-ki.
Most South Korean dog meat farmers were––and are––small-timers, who like backyard dog breeders here in the U.S., sold the litters from their pet dogs, or kept “meat dogs” alongside pet dogs. For most, selling dogs to the meat trade was a side business. They raised and sold dogs for slaughter much as they or their neighbors kept chickens, rabbits, or a couple of pigs on the side, while working at other jobs.
A relatively few large-scale commercial dog meat farms captured market share in recent decades, but several have been exposed by Korean humane organizations and mass media during the past several years for falling into mass neglect of dogs as the industry became less profitable.
Public health issues
After the Moran Market was closed temporarily due to an outbreak of avian flu, the Korea Alliance for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on January 9, 2014 appealed to the federal Ministry of Food & Drug Safety seeking permanent closure of the Moran Market for public health reasons.
The Ministry of Food & Drug Safety responded that government agencies can do nothing while selling dog and cat meat remains illegal and is therefore officially unregulated.
This was essentially the same paradoxical claim that South Korean government agencies have made for more than 25 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.”