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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Explained: South Korea’s president considers banning dog meat, here is why

A Reuters report estimated that up to one million dogs are still slaughtered for food annually in South Korea, but the demand for dog meat has considerably declined over the years.

Written by Neha Banka , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
October 4, 2021 3:08:41 pm
Over the last few years, advocacy groups have increased pressure on the South Korean government to close down markets, farms and restaurants connected with dog meat (Reuters)

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has raised the possibility of banning the consumption of dog meat in the country. This comes at the time when there has been growing awareness of animal rights in South Korea and ongoing debate over the controversial practice of slaughtering dogs for food.

In August this year, South Korea’s justice ministry’s director-general of legal counsel, Choung Jae-min, had told Reuters during an interview that the country plans to amend its civil code to grant animals legal status where people who abuse animals and abandon pets will face harsher punishments.

This weekend, in the football club’s official podcast, former Manchester United player Park Ji-sung asked the club’s supporters and fans to stop singing a fan chant that contains a reference to Koreans eating dog meat, explaining that the negative stereotype makes South Korean players uncomfortable. Park had added that he did not believe the fans meant to cause offence with the chant. During the podcast, Park had said some United supporters sang the chant again for Wolves’ new signing Hwang Hee-chan during their fixture at Molineux in August.

“So I’m really sorry for him to hear that. I know the United fans didn’t mean any offence to him, but I have to educate the fans to stop that word, which these days is a racial insult to the Korean people. I have to ask the fans to stop singing that word because it’s not cheering up someone anymore, it’s going to be more discomfort when they hear that song,” Park had said during the podcast.

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Socio-cultural context

The practice of the consumption of dog meat has been on a decline in South Korea, China and in other countries since the 2000s, said Dr. Joo Young-ha, Professor of Folklife Studies at the Academy of Korean Studies, one of South Korea’s leading academics on Korean culinary history, during an interview with indianexpress.com. In the case of South Korea, that process started back in 1988, when the country hosted the Olympics and came under severe criticism from foreigners over this culinary practice and started becoming more influenced by western cultural traditions.

A Reuters report estimated that up to one million dogs are still slaughtered for food annually in South Korea, but the demand for dog meat has considerably declined over the years. Historical documentation indicates that dog meat was consumed during the Goryeo dynasty and the Joseon dynasty, when the consumption of beef was regulated and limited. “Unlike beef and pork, dog meat was an easy ingredient, available in each household,” said Dr. Joo.

In the 20th century, “cows, pigs, and chickens were specifically reared to provide meat, but Koreans, especially men, did not stop eating dog meat. Dog meat is also related to masculinity, specific power groups, such as prosecutors, officers, and journalists,” he explained.

When the criticism against the consumption of dog meat first rose during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Koreans had objected to the criticism saying that it was a part of traditional Korean food and the issue became more nationalistic in tone, Dr. Joo said. “At that time, many male intellectuals ate dog meat more than once every summer. Therefore, government officials did not actively ban the sale of dog meat (citing culinary traditions). This problem continued during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.”

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Domestic sentiments

The debate now in this context, Dr. Joo said, is not about how foreigners look at Korean culinary practices but what Koreans themselves think. More than 60% Koreans now recognise pet dogs as a part of their family, not food. “Rather, it is a conflict within Korean society.”

During the recent meeting with South Korea’s Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, President Moon had questioned whether it was time that the country “prudently considered” a ban on this meat. The discussions at the government’s level on this issue is really a result of domestic sentiments, more than concern about the country’s image internationally. “This is why some argue that the president should consider banning the sale of dog meat,” said Dr. Joo.

President Moon is a known dog lover and this is the first time during his tenure that he has raised the possibility of complete ban on this kind of meat. According to a Reuters report, while there is a law in place that bans the cruel slaughter of dogs and cats, consumption of the meat itself is not banned in South Korea.

“Young Koreans have no reason to eat dog meat. Today, beef, pork, chicken, lamb, etc. are easily purchased in South Korea,” Dr. Joo. “Even in Korea it changed a lot. It is true that, historically, people have been eating dog meat. But these days, particularly the young generation, they hate it. It was there before but these days you really can’t find it. So the culture is changing,” Park had said in the podcast.

A Reuters report cited a recent poll commissioned by animal welfare group Aware, according to which “78% of respondents believed the production and sale of dog and cat meat should be prohibited and 49% supported a consumption ban.”

However, Reuters said “another survey by polling firm Realmeter found people were divided over whether the government should ban eating dog meat, though 59% supported legal restrictions on dog slaughter for human consumption.” Despite the decline in the number of customers, Reuters said dog meat sellers have insisted on the right to their occupation, saying their livelihoods are at risk.

According to a report by Humane Society International, in South Korea, Nureongi, a yellow spitz, is often used as a livestock dog. Across some dog farms, Tosa, a mastiff bred for meat, have also been rescued, as well as Pungsan, a dog native to the Korean Peninsula. “Earlier it was mainly a traditional species raised at home,” said Dr. Joo, explaining the various breeds of dogs reared for consumption. “However, since the 2000s, traditional species have decreased, and pet dogs imported from abroad have become ingredients for dog meat dishes.”

Election promises

Over the last few years, advocacy groups have increased pressure on the South Korean government to close down markets, farms and restaurants connected with dog meat. South Korea is scheduled to hold presidential elections in March next year and over the past few weeks, several presidential candidates have promised to ban dog meat in the country.

Reuters reported that Lee Jae-myung, governor of South Korea’s most populous province of Gyeonggi and a leading presidential contender from President Moon’s party, has vowed to push for a ban through social consensus. “But Yoon Seok-youl, an opposition frontrunner, has said it was a matter of people’s personal choice,” the report added.

There has been relatively little change in culinary practices in the DPRK, and they resemble food habits of South Koreans before the 1970s, he said. “Dog meat dishes are also a very important national food in North Korea. Since the 2010s, the number of people raising dogs as pets has also increased in the Chinese-Korean community in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. As a result, the restaurant that publicly sold dog meat dishes (now operates behind closed doors),” explained Dr. Joo.

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