Governing party and leading opposition party both favor banning dog consumption
SEOUL, South Korea––Dog-eating in South Korea appears likely to be banned after January 1, 2027.
“In a special consultative meeting at the National Assembly,” reported Lee Jaeeun for the Korea Herald on November 17, 2023, “the Yoon Suk Yeol administration and officials of the ruling People Power Party agreed to push for the passage of an anti-dog meat bill banning breeding and slaughter of dogs, as well as dog meat delivery and sales.
“Under the legislation,” Lee Jaeeun detailed, “farms, butcheries, distribution companies and restaurants would be required to submit proof to local governments that they do not engage in dog breeding or other related works, and a proposed timeline for ending dog meat activities. Violators would be subject to criminal punishment.
Three-year grace period
“A grace period of three years will be given to farmers, restaurant owners and others involved in the dog meat industry.”
Cat meat consumption, much less common in South Korea than dog-eating, was not mentioned, but legislation pertaining to dogs in South Korea usually pertains to cats too.
“After the act is introduced,” Lee Jaeeun explained, “lawmakers will have to vote on it in the National Assembly,” but prompt passage is expected.
“Over the course of this year,” Lee Jaeeun noted, “similar bills have been proposed by both the ruling People Power Party and the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.”
“Many serious problems”
Observed People Power Party policy steering committee chief Yu Eui-dong, a member of the National Assembly representing the Pyeongtaek district, “There have been many serious problems [with the dog meat industry], such as animal cruelty and food hygiene. Also, the issue has deepened social conflict for years.”
Pyeongtaek, a rural community directly south of Seoul, the national capital city, is known chiefly as home of the South Korean-style Songtan beef hamburger, introduced in 1982.
Traditional South Korean cuisine is mostly vegetarian. Per capita meat consumption in South Korea has, however, increased from about 100 pounds per capita in 2013 to more than 130 pounds per capita in the five years beginning with 2018, still less than half of per capita meat consumption in the United States.
Dog meat consumption down by more than half in 10 years
Dog meat consumption in South Korea has plummeted, during the same years, from about 3,500 “farms” supplying circa 3,000 “restaurants” a decade ago to 1,150 “farms” supplying 1,600 “restaurants,” according to 2022 South Korean agriculture department data.
Most South Korean dog meat “farms” are not farms specializing in raising dogs, though there are some that do, but rather are farms producing poultry, pigs, cattle, or crops, where a few dogs are raised on the side. Many dog meat “farms” are just the homes of farm workers with kennels in small yards.
Dog meat is consumed in South Korea almost exclusively by older men, usually in association with vices including gambling, alcohol consumption, and prostitution. Dog meat has never been commonly sold in supermarkets or consumed in homes.
64% of South Koreans have negative view of dog-eating
“A Gallup poll from last year showed that 64% of South Koreans aged 18 and older had a negative view of dog meat consumption, an increase from the same poll in 2015, when 44% were against it,” Lee Jaeeun mentioned.
“Yoon Suk Yeol, the South Korean president, and first lady Kim Keon Hee are known as animal-lovers, having six dogs and five cats,” offered Washington Post reporter Min Joo Kim, who is ethnic Korean.
“Kim Keon Hee attended an animal rights event in August 2023,” Min Joo Kim wrote, “and said that “Dog meat consumption should come to an end, in an era when humans and pets coexist as friends.”
Banning dog-eating “is my duty,” First Lady said
This was scarcely the first time that Kim Keon Hee spoke out against dog-eating.
Attending a rarely precedented luncheon with local animal advocacy leaders in April 2023, Kim Keon Hee pledged to “try to put an end to dog meat consumption before the tenure of this government ends [in 2027]. I think that is my duty.”
“After the remarks were reported through the media, both ruling and opposition parties appeared to support Kim Keon Hee,” 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 recalled.
“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.”
The Moran Market, the biggest dog meat sales locale serving Seoul, closed in 2016.
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. Not specifically mentioning dogs or dog meat, the 1991 law actually prohibited only the sale of “unsightly foods.”
The “unsightly foods” legislation was passed largely to placate American and European campaigners who had threatened to organize a boycott of the 1988 Olympic Games, hosted by South Korea, and then continue to pursue global boycotts for about 20 years with no visible success.
ANIMALS 24-7 documented trade & advised change of strategy
ANIMALS 24-7 in May 2001 paid a two-hour personal visit to the Moran Market, accompanied by three photographers, and then assembled the photos into a mosaic which for the first time documented the entire facility, enabling an accurate estimate of the amount of traffic and number of animals bought and sold there. This was followed by several days of additional observation of the dog meat trade in the cities of Seoul and Daigu,
“So much about South Korea has changed since 1988,” ANIMALS 24-7 explained in a memo to the chief executives of several dozen leading international animal advocacy organizations involved in anti-dog and cat meat campaigning, “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,” after South Korea had been under a succession of dictatorships that ended only in 1986, ANIMALS 24-7 pointed out.
“Empower local grassroots advocates”
ANIMALS 24-7 advised, in place of boycotts and petitions, 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 then, “nor has any idea what goes on in the dog-and-cat markets,” which were, and still are, in out-of-the-way places that ordinary shoppers rarely if ever visit.
“All the average Korean seems to know about dog-and-cat-eating, besides that it occurs,” ANIMALS 24-7 continued, “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.”
That all changed, and changed rapidly, with the rise of an indigenous Korean animal rights movement, mostly within the past 15 years.