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Korea still divided over dog meat consumption

Chobok once again sparks debate between animal rights groups and dog meat farmers

July 11, 2023 - 15:04 By Park Jun-hee
Animal activists stage a rally calling for an end to dog meat consumption at Jongno-gu, central Seoul, Saturday. (Yonhap)

Boshintang, or dog meat stew, has long been a staple for South Koreans to beat the heat during “chobok,” the beginning of the hottest summer days according to the lunar calendar that falls on July 11 this year.

However, Koreans remain divided over the issue. While a number of pet owners regard dogs as companion animals, others say eating them is a distinctive aspect of the country’s culinary culture and a basic right to determine one’s food choices.

On Saturday, some 200 members of the Association of Dog Farmers took to the streets of Jongno-gu in central Seoul to public eat dog meat, and even offered samples to passersby as part of a rally to condemn animal rights associations’ anti-dog meat activities.

Ju Yeong-bong, chairman of the ADF, told The Korea Herald that consuming dog meat is a right to food choice that cannot be violated, insisting that a ban is a form of discrimination.

Currently, around 70,000 metric tons of dog meat are being produced and distributed nationwide, according to Ju.

“Humans’ freedom to choose what to eat must be respected and guaranteed. Politicians, animal activists and groups and even the president have no right to oppose a person’s fundamental rights,” he said.

Dog meat consumption is neither explicitly banned nor legally protected here. Dogs are listed as livestock by the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, but not by the law that deals with livestock processing, leaving dog meat consumption in a gray zone.

Amid an ongoing debate on the issue, first lady Kim Keon Hee has openly committed herself to ending all types of dog meat consumption.

In addition, lawmakers from both the ruling and the main opposition parties tabled a bill banning dog meat consumption in April as a bipartisan effort to end the traditional practice. In late May, Kim Ji-hyang, a People Power Party member of the Seoul Metropolitan Council, floated a bill to ban eating dogs and cats and impose a maximum fine of 5 million won ($3,865) on businesses selling certain animals for food.

Animal advocates have welcomed the move, pinning hopes that it could save the lives of dogs being reared for their meat.

“Unlike before, there’s a deep sentiment among the public that dog meat consumption should no longer be allowed, as more and more people are becoming pet owners,” Jo Hee-kyung, who heads the Korea Animal Welfare Association, told The Korea Herald.

“Also, dog eating triggers emotional anxiety and wounds, as many people these days share emotional bonds with their pets. The brutal and traditional practice (of dog eating) is serious animal abuse,” Jo added.

Though far from an everyday presence on Koreans’ dining tables, 53.6 percent of Koreans in their 20s said they had eaten dog meat “unwillingly,” with some saying that they had to do so due to pressure from their elders, according to a survey conducted by Nielson Korea for the Humane Society International Korea in 2022.

Ahn Jong-min, an official at Catch Dog Team, a civic animal rights group, echoed Jo’s view that the act of killing dogs for human consumption should be made illegal.

“Dog meat consumption is against dogs’ basic rights to life and well-being, since they are being brutally slaughtered. The government should devise measures to prevent the unfair deaths of dogs,” Ahn said.