Home-grown anti-dog meat campaign succeeds where boycotts, petitions, & bashing failed for 40 years
SEOUL, South Korea––About 50 people on April 25, 2023 straggled through the streets of Seoul, the national capital of South Korea, in a protest about dog-eating.
Animal advocates’ events often attract much bigger crowds these days.
These protesters were among the few dog farmers and dog meat merchants left in the notoriously nasty business, demanding government help to preserve their dwindling businesses.
They did not appear to get much sympathy.
“I will try to put an end to dog meat consumption” says first lady
Only two weeks before, speaking boldly where South Korean politicians and celebrities dared not whisper 20 years ago, South Korean first lady Kim Keon Hee at a rarely precedented luncheon with local animal advocacy leaders reportedly pledged that, “I will try to put an end to dog meat consumption before the tenure of this government ends [in 2027]. I think that is my duty.”
Both ruling & opposition parties move
“After the remarks were reported through the media, both ruling and opposition parties appeared to support Kim,” observed Korea Times writer Jun Ji-hye.
“Representative Tae Yong-ho of the ruling People Power Party proposed a bill outlawing the butchery and sale of dog and cat meat on April 14, 2023,” Jun Ji-hye said.
“A day earlier, Representative Kim Min-seok, the chief policymaker of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, also said his party will push to enact a special law banning dog meat consumption,” Jun Ji-hye recalled.
Biggest dog meat market closed in 2016
Seven years after the 2016 closure of the Moran Market, the biggest dog meat sales locale serving Seoul, and five years after a Bucheon city court judge in 2018 upheld supposed anti-dog meat language in the Korean Animal Protection Act which had been on the books since 1991, but had never before been successfully prosecuted, South Korean public opinion appears to have decisively turned against eating dogs.
What remains of the once politically untouchable dog meat industry is howling about loss of livelihoods, but hardly anyone is playing violins in tune with the howlers.
(See South Korean court rules that killing dogs for meat is illegal, Largest dog and cat meat market in South Korea set to close by May, and Police respond––slowly––to complaints about dog slaughter in South Korea.)
“President Yoon Suk Yeol, who once said eating dogs was a matter of personal choice, later changed his position and pledged to work to ban dog meat consumption during his election campaigning,” Jun Ji-hye noted.
“The first lady, Kim Keon Hee, has openly supported a ban on all types of dog meat consumption,” Jun Ji-hye added. “During her interview with a vernacular newspaper in June last year, she said Korea and China are the only countries among big economies where people eat dog meat.”
Affirmed Associated Press correspondent Hyung-Jin Kim, “Kim Keon Hee and Yoon Suk Yeol are known as pet lovers. They have six dogs and five cats. Korean Animal Welfare Association president Jo Hee Kyung said Kim Keon Hee had long been supportive of animal rights even before Yoon Suk Yeol became president in 2022.”
“Pumping fists & chanting”
Jo Hee Kyung “said Kim’s comments reported in the media were largely taken out of context,” Hyung-Jin Kim wrote. “Jo said Kim Keon Hee did not discuss policies, but rather expressed her personal hopes for the end of dog meat consumption. Jo said Kim Keon Hee told the animal advocates at her luncheon that TV programs reporting animal abuses made her heart ache.”
Rallying against Kim Keon Hee’s remarks, “farmers pumped their fists and chanted slogans demanding Kim withdraw her reported comments and the government formulate steps to support the farmers. ‘Guarantee our livelihoods! Guarantee!’ they shouted,” reported Hyung-Jin Kim.
Led by Ju Yeongbong, identified by Hyung-Jin Kim as “an official at an association of dog farmers,” the protesters “later visited a police station to file complaints against Kim Keon Hee for allegedly hurting their rights to maintain livelihoods, seek happiness and select jobs.
Dog meat farmers compare their industry to religion
“In late 2021,” Hyung-Jin Kim mentioned, “a government/civilian committee was launched to reach a social consensus on ending dog meat consumption, but no breakthrough has been reported yet. Farmers demand authorities present more concrete compensation steps or allow them to maintain their businesses for about 15-20 years until older people, who are the main source of demand for the meat, die.”
Kim Keon Hee has previously recommended “supporting people working in the dog meat industry to change jobs,” Korea Times writer Jun Ji-hye said.
Demonstrating a hazy understanding of the Korean constitution, democracy, and logic, the dog meat farmers and sellers on April 25, 2023 argued that, “Siding with animal rights groups, which are interest groups, and calling for banning dog meat consumption, is obvious political activity that exceeds Kim Keon Hee’s authority,” accused her of “attempting to woo voters” through appealing to the increasing popularity of keeping pet dogs, and compared the dog meat industry to a religious faith, citing the practice of Buddhism and Christianity.
Rise of South Korean animal advocacy
The marked turn of public opinion and political momentum in South Korea against the dog meat industry reflects two decades of rapid growth of indigenous South Korean animal advocacy groups, founded and directed by South Koreans themselves.
This occurred mostly with little or no help from the multiple international animal advocacy organizations that conducted anti-dog meat campaigns during the 1980s and 1990s.
This is exactly as ANIMALS 24-7 predicted would happen in a May 2001 memo to the chief executives of several dozen leading international animal advocacy organizations, after a two-hour personal visit to the Moran Market, followed by several days of additional observation in the cities of Seoul and Daigu.
Culturally entrenched vices
ANIMALS 24-7 advised, in place of the boycotts and petitions that international animal advocates had directed at South Korea from outside for 20 years, to little visible effect, that outside organizations should take a lower profile and instead concentrate on aiding and empowering grassroots animal advocacy within South Korea––which was amply evident, if one looked.
“The average Korean neither participates in dog-and-cat-eating,” ANIMALS 24-7 reported, “nor has any idea what goes on in the dog-and-cat markets. Dog-and-cat-eating are culturally entrenched vices, not common practice.”
The same may be said of many forms of animal abuse here in the U.S., including sport hunting and rodeo, which are mostly legal, and cockfighting, which is explicitly illegal in all U.S. states and territories.
Corruption goes to the top
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness in particular has extensively exposed cockfighting in recent years, with the help of Animal Wellness Action and the Humane Farming Association.
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness has also extensively exposed the blatant indifference and apparent corruption of law enforcement agencies that fail to respond to complaints about cockfights in progress.
But the corruption associated with cockfighting, like political participation in dog-eating in South Korea 20-odd years ago, appears to go straight to the top of local and state government.
Campaigns against cruelty become campaigns for civic reform
In either South Korea or the states where cockfighting remains commonplace, that means campaigns that start out simply addressing illegal cruelty become eventually campaigns for civic reform––if they succeed.
This in turn requires grassroots political involvement by constituents of the elected officials who are allowing the cruelty to occur.
Obviously that will be a bigger job than small organizations like Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, and South Korean equivalents, can be expected to do.
But that is exactly where big national and international organizations should have a role, if indeed serious about abolishing culturally rationalized cruelty.
Average South Koreans knew little of the dog meat trade
Shown photographs of the Moran Market, ANIMALS 24-7 observed, average South Koreans on Seoul sidewalks and in places of business had exactly the same horrified response as most Americans and Europeans.
“Despite the public prominence of dog-eating, in particular, on the three summer bok choi days when dog meat is sold on sidewalks all over Korea,” ANIMALS 24-7 continued, “miles of looking at the menus, window fare, and refuse of countless hole-in-the-wall working class Korean restaurants in downtown Seoul and Daigu found no evidence that either dogs or cats are popular fare.
“If any of the restaurants routinely served dog or cat meat, they did not advertise it; neither did they hang dog or cat carcasses out in plain sight with the remains of pigs, poultry, fish, and cattle.
“All the average Korean seems to know about dog-and-cat-eating, besides that it occurs,” ANIMALS 24-7 reported, “is that externally directed campaigns have for 15 years called for economic and cultural boycotts of anything and everything Korean because of alleged atrocities that most Koreans have no more contact with than average Americans have with fur trapping.
“Thus it is easy for defenders of the dog and cat meat industries to tell Koreans that the boycotts are based on racist innuendo, promoted to protect European and American industry from economic competition, and that the Koreans who support the boycotts are traitors.
Did anyone pay attention?
“American and European campaigners,” ANIMALS 24-7 noted, “continue to pursue boycotts in part because the threat of a boycott of the 1988 Olympic Games, hosted by South Korea, felt like a success. That boycott threat helped to win an unenforced and perhaps unenforceable 1991 ban on the sale of ‘unsightly’ foods, such as dog meat,” the ban that was at last enforced in 2018.
“So much about South Korea has changed since then,” ANIMALS 24-7 warned in 2001, “that most of what humane activists think they know about winning in Korea is not only obsolete but self-defeating. The 1988-1991 campaign experience came almost entirely before the emergence of strong political opposition parties and the evolution of genuine political democracy.”
How about assisting & empowering residents of cockfighting states?
Some of the recipients of the May 2001 ANIMALS 24-7 memo appear to have paid attention, albeit not right away. More recent campaigns against dog-eating in South Korea, by the Humane Society International division of the Humane Society of the U.S., in particular, have focused on assisting and empowering South Korean activists.
Now, when will the Humane Society of the U.S., et al, get around to helping to aid and empower the many citizens of the cockfighting states who have had enough of allowing cockfighting, drug-dealing violent thugs to work in cahoots with local law enforcement, but feel that all they can do about it is help to direct Showing Animals Respect & Kindness drones to the cockpits on fight day?
Collecting electronic petition signatures and sending them to South Korea never did much beyond helping animal advocacy organizations to collect lists of email addresses for use in fundraising appeals; but collecting zip code-specific petitions in opposition to elected officials––including sheriffs––who coddle cockfighters will be a whole different matter.