Pet ownership is on the rise in South Korea, and along with it is burgeoning support for ending the traditional practice of eating dog meat. Although the selling and consumption of dog meat is prohibited in South Korea, the government rarely enforces this law.
According to the Los Angeles Times, that may change if pet owners and animal rights groups are successful in their campaigning to end the custom.
“People don’t comprehend the suffering these dogs endure,” Lee Won-bok, an impassioned animal rights activist and founder of the Korean Association of Animal Protection told the Times. (The website is in Korean language, but can be translated using Google or any translation tool.) “They may vaguely realize that people still eat dogs. But they need to know what happens to the animals.”
The BBC News reported that dogs used to be hanged or beaten with bats to soften their flesh. Those methods have been banned, and dogs are now killed instantly by electrocution. Animal rights activists say that many dogs are still being tortured.
Thousands of South Koreans have signed Lee’s petitions to end the consumption of dog meat, and several animal rights groups have been formed to protest the custom. Last year Lee led a demonstration against the Seoul city government’s proposal to categorize dogs as livestock in order to set food safety standards for the dog meat industry. The proposal allows for the mass breeding of dogs for their meat and serving it in restaurants.
Lee filed a lawsuit several years ago to stop the sale of dog meat soup (boshintang), a delicacy traditionally consumed on three “dog days” in summer. That suit was rejected, but Lee was successful in having the government outlaw the killing of stray pets for food.
The consumption of dog meat has a long history in East Asia. According to the National Geographic News, a new genetic analysis conducted last month indicates that wolves were first domesticated in the southern China region as long as 16,300 years ago–and most likely for the purpose of cuisine, not companionship.
Dog meat has been prohibited in South Korea since the 1988 Seoul Olympics, when it was banned to prevent bad publicity from “foods deemed unsightly,” but there are still an estimated 500 dog meat restaurants in Seoul alone. Statistics show that dog is the fourth most popular meat after pork, beef and chicken.
While proponents of the tradition oppose cruelty to animals, they claim that dog meat has health benefits and provides vitality. They say the meat does not come from house pets but from dogs bred specifically for that purpose, and scoff at what they consider the hypocrisy of detractors. Cham Lee, director of the Korean Tourism Organization, told the Times, “Westerners eat one type of animal and tell the world they can’t eat another. I say, if you eat animals, you eat animals.”
Lee Won-bok says he will not stop campaigning until the consumption of dogs ends. With the support of the public, he says dog eating will not end “in one day or one year. But it’s only a matter of time.”
To find out more about how to help put an end to this practice and save dogs in South Korea, visit the following websites:
PHOTOS: koreananimals.org, latimes.com