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South Korea’s canine farmers protest proposed ban on dog meat

dogs look on from their cages at a dog meat farm in hwaseong
Dogs look on from their cages at a dog meat farm in Hwaseong, South Korea, November 21, 2023. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Minwoo Park and Daewoung Kim

LEAs South Korea moves to ban eating dog meat, many of those involved in the centuries-old controversial practice are fighting to keep it legal.

The farmers who breed the dogs, and the owners of eateries that serve the meat, have held protests in front of parliament to demand the government and ruling People Power Party scrap plans to pass a bill this year to enforce a ban.

They say banning dog meat would decimate their livelihoods, and also limit the options available to diners by taking off the menu a dish that in the Korean peninsula has traditionally been consumed to beat the summer heat, but which today is only eaten by some older people.

“If I have to close down, with the financial condition I’m in, there really is no answer to what I can do,” said Lee Kyeong-sig, who runs a farm outside Seoul raising up to 1,100 dogs. “I’ve been in this for 12 years and it is so sudden.”

A Gallup Korea poll last year showed almost two-thirds of respondents opposed eating dog meat, with only 8% saying they had eaten dog within the past year, down from 27% in 2015.

Despite its declining popularity and opposition from animal rights activists, previous attempts to ban dog meat have failed because of industry protests.

This time, the government has said the proposed ban would give the industry a three-year grace period to transition out of the trade, as well as provide the maximum possible financial support for those affected.

With the backing of the public, and bipartisan support in parliament, there are signs that the ban could soon become law.

 

TIME FOR CHANGE

The agriculture ministry declined to give details about the size of the industry, but the Korean Association of Edible Dogs, says far more farms and restaurants than those cited by the government will be affected.

The association said 3,500 farms raising 1.5 million dogs and 3,000 restaurants will have to shut down, almost twice the numbers stated by officials.

Nam Sung-gue who has run a restaurant selling dog meat boshintang, or “restoring” soup, for the past 30 years, said the ban was unfair, even though his business is fast declining.

“If they try to ban the food that people have eaten for a long time, that is a wrong kind of law, a law that takes away the freedom to choose what we eat,” he said.

Many opponents of the ban blame it on First Lady Kim Keon Hee, a vocal critic of dog meat consumption who along with her husband President Yoon Suk Yeol has six dogs.

Asked about Kim’s influence, an official at the president’s office said: “Both in the country and abroad there is support and consensus, as well as from the opposition party.”

An Byung-gil, member of parliament for the ruling party who is the main sponsor of the bill, also said the time was ripe for change. “Even though something may be part of tradition, what needs to be changed has to be changed,” he said.

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