Dog meat ban in South Korea: “You can’t dictate what people can and can’t eat”

Dog meat ban in South Korea: "You can't dictate what people can and can't eat"

Do you eat dog meat? This is one of the most controversial questions a foreigner can ask in South Korea, although the reaction and answer often depends on the age of the person being asked.

Park Yoon-kyung, 30, who works in Germany and admits that he sometimes feels offended by the question, says: “It’s a very annoying question, I always have to clarify that I have never eaten it.” . Dog meat dishes are mainly for older people in South Korea, but foreigners often ask the general public.

“The question has a negative connotation, it means that Koreans eat something very unpleasant and the society is savage,” he adds.

But the days of these questions appear to be numbered, as early last week the South Korean government announced a new ban on the breeding, collection, distribution and sale of meat dogs by 2027. Has the law been passed?

Professor Dr. Jo Young-ha, an anthropologist at the Graduate School of Korean Studies, explains that this would effectively end a centuries-old tradition. Historically, cows were highly valued and so valuable that until the late 19th century a government permit was required to slaughter them.

And that’s why humans needed other sources of protein. Dog meat was one of the best delicacies on the Korean Peninsula, enjoyed by people of all social classes, although there were always those who avoided it.

But like any other meat, various dishes made with this meat emerged, such as dog meat soup, called ‘bosentang’, and boiled dog meat dish. Speaking to older South Koreans, many still tout its virtues as a delicacy, such as being easy to digest and an energy booster, especially during the hot season.

Thus, during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, many people were surprised to learn that dog meat was eaten in Korea. In 1988, South Korea hosted the first major international competition and then criticism of the use of dog meat made headlines around the world.

“At first, many people, especially the social elite, considered it disrespectful to other cultures, but then more people felt embarrassed and became more critical,” says Dr. Jo.

Today, three decades later, South Korea is a very different country, at least in the sense that very few people eat dog meat anymore.

According to a Gallup poll last year, only eight percent of people had eaten dog meat in the past 12 months, a significant decrease from 27 percent in 2015.

The survey said there are now around 3,000 dog breeding farms in South Korea, up from 10,000 in the early 2010s. But this figure is still much higher than government figures, which put the number of these farms in about 1,100.

Meanwhile, the trend of keeping dogs as pets has increased. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, 2022 survey data shows that one in four people in South Korea has a pet.

In December it was also reported that there are more pet traffickers than children in the country. And that’s as much a reflection of South Korea’s declining birth rate as it is of its love of animals.

And then there are President Yoon Suk-yeol and First Lady Kim Kyun-hee, who are known for loving pets and have six dogs and five cats.

It took this government less than two years to pass a law to ban dog meat, which the previous administration failed to implement. Although this idea was proposed decades ago. A proposal to revise it under Yun’s predecessor was shelved after heavy criticism.

Dog meat
Dog meat

The new law now means that within three years those involved in the business will face fines or jail terms if they continue their business. However, this does not mean that eating dog meat is illegal.

However, the law has been welcomed by other activists, including Jo Hye-kyung, head of the Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA), which has been campaigning on the issue since the late 1990s.

She says the ban was the “only solution” to stop dog abuse, adding that “I hope the world stops abusing animals in the name of tradition or culture.”

But not everyone is convinced, and even less so those who make a living from the dog meat trade.

“We recognize that not many people eat dog meat,” says Jo Yongbong, a meat dog breeder and president of the Korean Edible Dog Association. We know the market is shrinking… but we still have the right to run this business.’

They argue that the industry has not been well regulated in the past and that many animal rights concerns could be addressed if there were better laws.

And then there is Dr. Ahn Yong-geun, former professor of food engineering at Chungnam National University, who is often referred to as ‘Dr. Meat of dog’.

Dr. Ahn Yong-geun, one of the few dog meat researchers in South Korea, began researching it during the 1988 Olympics, frustrated by the passive response he received from the government and academia to foreign criticism. They realized it, and now they discuss the benefits of eating dog meat.

According to Dr. Ahn, it is low in unsaturated fat and could be used as a healthy alternative to beef or pork.

Instead, he appears set to be relegated to history, a move they question as being at odds with the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the country’s constitution.

“You can’t dictate what people can and can’t eat,” says dog farmer Joe.

Le Bora, a dog owner in her 30s who is against eating dog meat and welcomes the new law, says she is “a little worried” about the implications.

“Emotionally, I wish people wouldn’t breed and slaughter dogs for food,” she says. But in principle I think that dogs are not that different from cows or pigs.’

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