There is a long history of consuming dog meat in South Korea , mostly from nureongi dogs. The flesh of canines is traditionally believed to imbue those who eat it with health benefits. But now, the tide of popular opinion is turning against the practice — and bringing with it new laws limiting, and potentially eliminating, the dog meat trade altogether. The shift in attitude is also putting some South Korean dog meat farms out of business.
Here’s what you need to know about the dog meat trade, what it reveals about hypocrisies in the West, and what you can do to help end the practice of eating dogs.
Which Country Is Famous for Dog Meat?
Most people are aware of the dog meat trade in Korea, but Korea is not the only country eating dogs.
Despite being less associated with the practice, China is the largest consumer of dog meat in the world. Eating dog is also common in Vietnam, where the industry is supported by farms in neighboring countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
Elsewhere in the world, consuming dog meat is less common. That said, several other countries lack laws criminalizing eating dogs, while they may have rules preventing slaughter, farming or sale. Such places include the United States and the United Kingdom, where a person could theoretically kill and eat their own dog, but selling it to someone else is illegal.
Less widely known is that in Switzerland, rural residents in some areas consume dog meat in the form of jerky or sausage. Though the practice came under public scrutiny several years ago, a ban doesn’t exist, since the practice is fringe.
Is There a Moral Difference Compared to Eating Other Animals?
“If it was by my side all day long, of course I would be attached to it, but really, what’s the difference with eating another animal?” Maria Taragan, owner of a restaurant serving exclusively dog meat in Indonesia, asked Al Jazeera in an interview.
What Taragan is pointing out is the similarity between dogs and other farm animals. In some cases, such asf pigs, other commonly eaten animals are actually smarter than dogs, and show a similar range of emotions and attachments.
Western disturbance with the concept of eating dogs reveals the double standard and cognitive dissonance when it comes to caring about the lives of farm animals as well.
The Cultural Component
The culture of a community changes over time in response to its economic, political, and larger social context. In Korea, eating dog meat is falling out of favor among younger generations.
Survey data from 2020 found that 83.9 percent of South Koreans either have never consumed dog meat, or wouldn’t in the future. Of those who do consume dog meat, the majority of them (72.9 percent) consume it only seasonally, and especially during Boknal, a Korean tradition surrounding the hottest days of summer.
Why Is Dog Meat Consumed in Some Cultures?
Why do people eat cattle or pigs? Because they’re hungry and doing so is socially and culturally normalized behavior. The same can be said of people who eat dog meat. As Silas Sihombing put it when he spoke with Al Jazeera, “today I’m eating dog because I’m hungry.”
For those in Korea, eating dog meat is also associated with specific health benefits. Among the alleged benefits are increased sexual stamina and regulated body heat during the summer, making it a popular option for gatherings of men, and during Boknal.
An Industry in Decline
Despite the perceived benefits of eating dog meat, consumption is decreasing, especially among younger generations. As of 2020, more than half of surveyed respondents supported a ban on consuming dog meat. Just three years prior in 2017, less than 40 percent supported such a ban.
In addition, the number of Koreans who believe that consuming dog meat reflects poorly on the country is on the rise, up from 36.7 percent in 2017 to 57 percent in 2020. The mounting public distaste for dog meat culminated when earlier this year Democratic Party Assembly Member Han Jeoung-ae introduced a bill that would phase the industry out completely over five years.
The growing distaste for dog meat coincides with increasing pet ownership in South Korea. The Korea Times took to the streets to talk to young Koreans about their perception of the dish and many pointed to their pet dogs as a reason they won’t eat dog meat now, even if they did as children.
What Is Boknal?
Boknal comprises the three “hottest” days of the year — Chobuk, Jungbok, and Malbok — as determined by a lunar calendar. These three days drive a majority of dog meat consumption, largely due to the belief that consuming dog meat, and specifically dog meat soup, helps people withstand increased heat and humidity, and maintain stamina.
What Breed of Dog Is Eaten Most?
Nureongi, or yellow dogs, are most often raised and slaughtered for meat in South Korea. Though not officially recognized as a breed by any international body, the nureongi are characterized as short-haired, mid-sized and sporting yellow fur.
It’s not just yellow dogs on farms. Activists rescuing dogs from factory farms have found an array of breeds, some of whom are stolen pets.
Is It Legal to Use Dogs for Meat in South Korea?
Currently, dog meat falls into a legal gray area in South Korea. In 2018, a court ruling determined that consumption was not a legal reason to kill a dog, and high-ranking government officials, such as first lady Kim Keon-hee, have been vocal about their distaste for the industry.
What Is the Current Situation with Dog Meat in South Korea?
Currently, dog meat is a hot topic of debate in South Korea, especially following the recent introduction of a potential ban. While most younger people are against the traditional practice, beliefs about the health benefits of consuming dog meat endure among older generations.
Recent Advancements in Legislation and Awareness About Dog Meat in South Korea
For activists fighting to end the dog meat industry in Korea, the future is looking bright. After years of work, both political and social powers are turning away from the tradition of eating dog meat.
A newly introduced bill could remove any questions that remain surrounding the legality of farming, slaughtering and consuming dogs. The new bill, introduced by Democratic Party Assembly Member Han Jeoung-ae represents a nonpartisan attempt to address an issue that is quickly losing popularity among Korean constituents.
Future Perspectives on the Dog Meat Industry in South Korea
As popular opinion turns away from raising and slaughtering dogs for meat, other stakeholders are taking notice. Government officials are considering bans, and even farmers are reaching out to rescue entities for help shutting down their operations and rehoming dogs.
Though only time will tell for sure, the industry may well be on its way out.
Will Dog Meat Restaurants Become a Thing of the Past?
The declining popularity of dog meat and increasing criticism from the public contributed to the launch of a task force by South Korea to evaluate banning the consumption of dog meat in late 2021. This is a promising step toward a future for a South Korea without restaurants serving dog meat.
What Are the Arguments for and Against Consuming Dog Meat?
Activists fighting against dog meat point to the inhumane treatment the animals experience on the farms and the painful slaughtering practices — among them electrocution, drowning and hanging.
Meanwhile, those who want to preserve the right to eat dog meat argue that the practice is a tradition, and that activists are overly influenced by western culture and societal expectations.
Is Elwood’s Dog Meat Real?
Elwood’s Dog Meat Farm is alarming people in major cities with their marketing of humanely raised dog meat. After talking to the organization’s representatives, outrage melts into understanding as onlookers realize that the marketing is intended to demonstrate the double standard associated with the animals westerners eat, and those they don’t.
At its core, Elwood’s Dog Meat Farm is the work of activist Molly Elwood. Though the project started out as mostly a website, it recently launched advertisements in the London Underground. The project focuses on leveraging the same marketing tactics employed by other meat producers to highlight the hypocrisy of eating livestock and loving dogs.
How Can Tourism and Pop Culture Impact the Dog Meat Industry in South Korea?
Governing bodies have embarked on a concerted effort to grow Korea’s international appeal. However, as Korean pop culture — take K-Pop and Squid Game as examples — grows in popularity, so too does international attention on the dog meat industry.
Though not a deciding factor for the meat industry debate in Korea, international influence and the impact that perceptions have on tourism is hastening the turn away from farming dogs.
Are There Health Consequences from Eating Dog Meat?
Activists against the sale of dog meat have highlighted the risk to public health that the dog meat trade represents. During the recent coronavirus pandemic, activists worked hard to push through legislation to limit or end the dog meat trade.
In China, activists found some success when dogs were removed from the list of livestock and called companion animals for the first time.
The Bottom Line
If recent developments are any indication, it’s likely that the Korean dog meat trade will continue to diminish. Already, political and social powers are turning against the tradition.
Discussions surrounding dog meat can easily stray into xenophobic arguments. Avoiding this rhetoric makes the issue more accessible.
In advocating for the wellbeing of dogs used for meat around the world, some advocates have perpetuated the idea that Koreans and others who consume dog meat are savage or hate animals.
Consider Adopting a Dog
Following the closure of dog meat producers in South Korea, some of the dogs are rehomed to South Koreans, while others find their way back to other countries. When deciding whether or not to open your home to one of these dogs, it is important to consider several factors.
Dogs from meat farms have difficult pasts that can result in behavior that is inconsistent with potential adoptees’ expectations. Ensuring that you have enough time and resources to help them overcome their experiences — and any resulting trauma or lack of training — will reduce the stress for both you and your new family member.
Save Korean Dogs
Save Korean Dogs provides the opportunity for people to volunteer from around the world. The present shelter was opened in 2016 and has sent more than 3000 dogs to new homes in the United States and Canada.
Korean Animal Shelters
Animal Rescue Korea provides a crowd-sourced list of animal shelters in Korea. Some of the shelters are managed by a single individual, while others are community efforts. All of them seek to help animals in need.
Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA)
KARA is the leading animal rights organization in South Korea. The organization provides shelter for animals, education for people, and seeks to bring about policy change on behalf of animals, including on the issue of the dog meat industry.
HSI/Korea and China
Through their offices in South Korea and China, Humane Society International has played an integral role in shutting down several farms raising dogs for meat. The dogs rescued from the farms are placed into loving new homes in South Korea, the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., and the farmers are supported as they transition out of the industry.
This piece has been updated.
Grace is a journalist who covers farming and agricultural policy, including how factory farms impact environmental and human rights in her writing. Her reporting has been published in Truthdig, the Good Men Project and Sentient Media. Born, raised and living near the Florida Coast, she holds her MS in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts University. She can be reached by email to [email protected].