South Koreans have been consuming dog meat for hundreds of years. Will the recent outcry against its consumption lead to any significant changes?
To the western world, practices from Asia can seem a bit otherworldly at times, especially when you take their cuisine into consideration. Food such as snakes, insects, and various other grub that you would turn your nose away from are considered delicacies in numerous countries. Dog meat practically is something which the rest of the world is against. Most people would view the practice of slaughtering dogs, an animal we consider a loyal companion, inhumane but in countries such as South Korea and North Korea, there is a high demand for it.
The governments of these two aforementioned countries were entirely aware of how their countries’ dog meat trade reflected poorly on them on the international scene. With the Winter Olympics now underway and thousands of tourists pouring into the country, South Korea’s government had instructed its citizens to refrain from purchasing dog meat out in the public. They had also offered money to restaurants if they stopped serving dog meat during the games and asked for signs advertising them to either be covered or removed.
It had also ordered the closing of the Moran market in Seongnam in May 2017 — some 70-odd miles from the games are taking place and the country’s largest open-air dog market — where up to 80,000 dogs are killed every year and which acts as the source for one-third of the dog meat consumption in the country. However, according to a report by the Daily Mail, the market is still up and running, and attracting thousands of prospective customers.
According to the Associated Press, restaurants ‘nearly in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium’ are selling dog meals, with Humane Society International reporting that 2.5 million Korean dogs are killed for their meat every year.
The country has attempted to discourage dog meat consumption in recent years, but it is not an easy task. One in three Koreans have eaten dog meat at least once in their lives and one in twenty are regular consumers. The popularity of the meat can be traced to a soup named Bosintang or Gaejangguk (Dangogiguk in North Korea), which includes dog meat as its primary ingredient and has a long history in Korean culture. Made with vegetables such as green onion, perilla leaves, and dandelions, the soup is believed to increase the virility of those who consume it. It’s also available for rates as cheap as $7.50 a bowl.
One elderly woman selling dog meat told the Daily Mail: «It’s just like making any meat soup. I can’t tell you about how to slaughter the animal because it’s not really allowed, it’s tolerated. But once you have the meat you cook it with vegetables and spices in a rich broth and serve it piping hot. It’s very popular.»
While the trade itself is a gray area — the government cannot hope to wipe away thousands of years of tradition within a span of a few years without triggering some sort of a public outcry — the issue stems from what people view as an unethical and inhumane treatment of these animals.
Speaking about the issue, American ice dance skater Alex Shibutani told USA Today: «Every country and every culture has different traditions and we are always respectful of those. I can’t speak too much because I’m just not familiar with their culture.»
The same article in the Daily Mail claims that these dogs waiting for slaughter were made to live in atrocious conditions, with a two dozen kept in freezing, darkened dungeons with non-existent hygiene. The dogs reportedly had open wounds all over their bodies and looked malnourished.
Talking about the practices used to kill the dogs, Marc Ching, the founder of Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, told USA Today: «In Korea, they usually put a noose around the dog’s neck and take them out back, hang them and beat them. Another method is they just smash their head open. Sometimes they do electrocution. They shock them and burn them or de-fur them. With electrocution many times they are still alive. It is terrible.»
Farmers do not employ such barbaric methods to kill the dogs to get a kick out of it. In fact, it’s because many believe that beating and torturing the animals gives them a rush of adrenaline and thus makes their meat more tender for consumption.
Dog meat farmers vehemently defend their methods and feel it is their right to keep the dogs packed in cages and treat them the same way as any animal being raised for human consumption. The president of the Korean Dog Farmers Association was quoted saying: «How can we sell (them) when we’re training and communicating with them individually? They’re just livestock. We raise them with affection so they don’t suffer, but the purpose is different.»
The demand for the meat has not waned in the slightest. The carcass of an adult dog sells for up to 200,000 South Korean won or $180, with puppies going for a much cheaper rate of just $9.20. Kittens are sold in these markets as well, and while traders will claim these animals are being sold as pets, they openly suggest using them for food too.
Currently, it’s mostly the older citizens who consume the meat, with the younger generation either against it or indifferent to it. There is a large population in the country who do not eat or enjoy dog meat, but strongly feel it’s within the rights of others to do so and a also a group of pro-dog cuisine people who want to popularize the consumption of the meat in Korea as well as the world, believing it to be it to be part of the traditional culture of Korea with a long history worth preserving.
While a blanket ban on consumption of dog meat may never come — a surprisingly large number of farmers depend on it with for their livelihood — the South Korean government has been taking steps of late to either discourage people from buying it or provide vendors with incentives to switch their trade to something more tourist friendly.
South Korea adopted its first Animal Protection Law in May 1991, but its Article 7 does not explicitly prohibit the slaughter of dogs for food. However, it «prohibits killing animals in a brutal way» and «forbids killing the dogs in open areas such as on the street or in front of other animals of the same species,» and as international scrutiny on the trade increases, there are likely to be more changes.
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