Verdict for the first time upholds 1991 law
BUCHEON, South Korea––Upholding parts of the Korean Animal Protection Act which have been on the books since 1991, but were never before successfully prosecuted, a Bucheon city court judge has fined a dog meat farmer the equivalent of $2,050 in U.S. dollars for “killing animals without proper reasons and violating building and hygiene regulations,” reported Agence France-Presse on June 21, 2018 from Seoul, the South Korean national capital.
Evolving over months, the pivotal events described in the Agence France-Presse report actually came in February, March, and April 2018.
Verdict may be beginning of the end for the dog meat industry
Those events built on the momentum of a much longer educational and political effort which may be the beginning of the end for the dog meat industry in South Korea, arguably the nation in which dog-eating has been most deeply politically entrenched.
The Bucheon verdict, summarized Agence France-Press, “in a case brought by the animal rights group Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE), said meat consumption was not a legal reason to kill dogs.”
“It is very significant in that it is the first court decision that killing dogs for dog meat is illegal in itself,” CARE attorney Kim Kyung-eun told Agence France-Presse.
“The dog meat industry will take greater heat because of the court ruling,” predicted CARE president Park So-youn.
Park So-youn pledged to pursue similar cases against dog meat farms and slaughter houses throughout South Korea.
The story behind the story
But that was only the most visible surface of the story.
Bucheon, a major Seoul suburb, and the second most densely populated city in South Korea after Seoul, is the traditional hub of the South Korean dog meat industry, located about halfway between railroad yards serving the capital and Incheon, the largest South Korean port.
The Moran Market, long hosting the most notorious dog meat butcher shops in South Korea, is located in Seongnam, the Seoul/Incheon suburb just south of Bucheon.
The 1991 Korean Animal Protection Act language that the Bucheon court upheld explicitly bans only the sale of “unsightly” food. Passed to quell international pressure to end the dog meat industry, of which a much smaller trade in cat meat is subsidiary, the law brought a temporary hiatus in protests and publicity that had embarrassed the Korean government abroad.
1991 law had no immediate effect
The 1991 law had little or no effect within South Korea, however, where there were at the time few animal advocacy organizations, the dog meat industry had a low profile, prosecutors had no stomach for confronting it, the major mass media mostly supported the dog meat trade, and the overseas protests were seldom noted in mass media reports.
Initially not enforced at all, the Korean Animal Protection Act language was widely believed to have been unenforceable because of the vague language in it.
The Korean Animal Protection Act language was invoked in 2002, however, possibly for the first time, when the government of South Korea cited it in asking 22 vendors who sold dog meat at the Moran Market for “a voluntary discontinuation of all illegal sales and practices.”
This was to reduce visitor awareness of dog-and-cat-eating during the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament.
Moran Market closed
The dog meat market most accessible to visitors, the Moran Market had become a tourist destination of sorts, but not a destination contributing much to the South Korean foreign exchange ratio.
Fifteen years later, in December 2016, the Seongnam city government and the Moran Market dog meat vendors again responded to the 1991 law by jointly announcing plans to remove their cages and slaughtering facilities, and to be completely out of the dog and cat meat business by May 2017.
But better hiding the dog meat industry hardly ended it.
“Dog meat restaurants did not stop”
“Before the 2018 Winter Olympics,” recalled National Geographic writer Heather Brady, “the South Korean government asked the 12 restaurants in the Pyeongchang area that sell dog meat to stop doing so during the event, offering subsidies to make the request more palatable. But most of those restaurants did not stop.”
Before the April 2018 Bucheon city court verdict, CARE said, “dog slaughter was punishable only under Article 8, Paragraph 1, Items 1 and 2 of the Animal Protection Act, which states that killing an animal by hanging or other cruel methods, in an open place or in front of animals of the same species, is illegal.
“However, the dog meat industry avoided regulation by killing dogs in hidden illegal slaughterhouses, and by preventing the act from being seen by other dogs by putting a divider between the slaughtering area and where the live dogs were kept.
“In addition,” CARE recounted, “those accused of dog electrocution were acquitted [when previous prosecutions were attempted] because of insufficient evidence. Some prosecutors admitted that while the slaughtering of dogs for food for profit was in violation of the Korea Animal Protection Act, the trade remains common in South Korea and many people still support dog meat consumption. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has stated they ‘won’t revise the legislation on dog meat consumption.’”
The Bucheon case originated, according to CARE, and came to a different conclusion, when “On October 10, 2017, CARE accused a Bucheon dog farmer of slaughtering dogs using electrocution. On March 8, 2018, the Incheon prosecutor’s office fined the farmer.” The farmer appealed, however, to the Incheon District Court in Bucheon, which on April 16, 2018 upheld the fine.
Help from Thailand
The successful prosecution in Bucheon followed a year-long public awareness campaign waged by Korean animal advocacy organizations with substantial help from the Thailand-based Soi Dog Foundation, which has also led campaigns against the dog meat industry in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
Notably, the Soi Dog Foundation in 2014 brokered a five-year suspension of the transborder dog meat trade in in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as a rabies control measure.
The trade has historically run mostly from Thailand east to the other nations involved. Central to the suspension is that the Soi Dog Foundation accepts and accommodates all of the dogs who are impounded by Thai authorities from traffickers transporting them to the major Southeast Asia dog meat markets in Vietnam.
Beginning in June 2017, the Soi Dog Foundation said, “Several public buses [in Bucheon] were fitted with signs bringing public attention to the plight of dogs who fall victim to this horrendous trade in animal cruelty. A large billboard was also erected.
Bus placards & a billboard
“We hope to see Bucheon become the first dog meat free city in South Korea,” the Soi Dog Foundation said at the time. “The Soi Dog Foundation has also donated equipment to the city’s new dog park as part of the campaign effort.”
Dog meat farmers, historically a politically influential constituency with dog-eating friends in high places, have long petitioned for legislation which would explicitly legalize selling dogs for meat and license dog meat slaughterhouses, but have recently lost cultural and political momentum.
There are about 17,000 “dog meat farmers” in South Korea, according to commonly cited guesstimates, but many raise dogs for slaughter only as a minor sideline to producing pigs, poultry, or field crops. The often stated claim that South Koreans eat about one million dogs per year originates from agricultural ministry survey data that is now nearly 20 years old.
The political pendulum is now swinging the other way.
More than five years in evolution, amendments to the Korean Animal Protection Act introducing penalties for violations of up to two years in prison in February 2017 cleared the Standing Committee of the National Assembly.
Reinforcing those amendments, a further amendment introduced by National Assembly member Chang Won Pyo would prohibit killing animals in ‘principle,’ according to CARE, “except when slaughtered or disposed of under the Livestock Sanitation Management Act, or the Livestock Infectious Diseases Prevention Act, to prevent direct threats,” or when killed in connection with biomedical research which cannot be done using non-animal models, or in connection with veterinary treatment, meaning humane euthanasia.
Believes CARE, “The amendment solves the problem of illegal slaughtering of dogs, which are companion animals and not livestock according to the Livestock Sanitation Management Act,” but continues because the existing legislation does not given any agency a clear jurisdiction for prohibiting the slaughter of animals not defined as livestock.
“In conjunction with Lee Sang Don’s recent legislative amendment to remove dogs from the list of livestock,” concludes CARE, “it is a strong step toward the abolition of the dog meat industry.”
Ahead of the passage of the pending legislation, but apparently anticipating that it will pass, the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs on June 7, 2018 announced that it is forming a division to address issues involving companion animals.
“The animal welfare policy division will tackle major assignments such as preventing animal-related accidents and protecting animals from being abandoned or mistreated, as well as enhancing the ethical guidelines for animal testing,” said the ministry in a prepared statement.”
More pets, more lab animals, & a vegan mayor
The Korean newspaper Joongang Daily reported that the number of South Korean households that keep pets increased by more than 20% between 2015 and 2017, from 4.57 million to 5.93 million.
The number of laboratory animals increased 18% from 2.51 million, to 3.08 million over the same years, but the number of farmed animals increased by only about 1,000, meaning that this remained basically unchanged, since fluctuations in that range occur from day to day, depending on the numbers slaughtered, hatched, or born in any given day.
Indicative of the changes underway, residents of Jeonju, a rural southern city, recently re-elected a vegan mayor, Kim Seung-Su, who has reportedly pledged to make Jeonju the second dog meat-free city in the nation, following the example of Bucheon.