The South Korean dog meat trade has received a lot of media attention around the world in recent years, because of its industrialized dog meat farms. Not as frequently covered are the actions against the trade being taken by Korean citizens and the shift away from dog meat consumption. This shift comes as no surprise in a country where pet ownership has been increasing steadily and where a rescue dog first lived in the presidential Blue House in 2017, four years before the first rescue dog in the White House. In late 2021, pet lover and South Korean President Moon Jae-in even voiced his support for a ban on eating dog meat.
Which Country Is Famous for Dog Meat?
Due to an increase in media coverage of the industry, the country most famous for consuming dog meat is South Korea. This increasing coverage in the Global North and the assumptions that it creates about the dog meat industry in Korea raise vital questions of moral difference and cultural understanding.
Anyone that has shared their space with a dog knows that they are capable of a breadth of emotions and have unique personalities. They are, however, not the only animal gifted with this capability. Animals that are frequently subjected to factory farming in countries across the Global North such as cattle and pigs are also capable of creating friendships and reasoning. As highlighted by Elwood Dog Meat Farm, a vegan campaign, consuming dogs is not more unethical or strange than eating any animal, as they are all capable of suffering and often display higher capabilities such as reason and empathy.
The culture of a community changes over time in response to its economic, political, and larger social context. Discussions of the dog meat industry in South Korea should acknowledge that recent surveys show that most South Koreans do not consume dog meat and support banning the practice. In fact, 83.8 percent of survey respondents stated that they either had never consumed dog meat or would refuse to consume it in the future. This challenges the assumption made by many in the Global North that dog meat consumption persists as a common cultural practice within the country.
Where Are Dogs Eaten?
Dogs are still consumed in an array of places including China, Vietnam, Switzerland, and Ghana. In Switzerland, there was outrage in 2016 over a spoof video for a restaurant offering dog meat. The video drew attention to the country’s laws, which prevent the commercial production of dog meat but not its consumption, allowing people in certain rural parts of Switzerland to continue to butcher and eat dogs. Like Switzerland, the United Kingdom prevents the commercial production of dog meat, but there is no law preventing the consumption of dogs. Dog meat has also been consumed throughout history in times of war or famine by countries around the world.
What Is Boknal?
Boknal comprises the three hottest days of the year—Chobuk, Jungbok, and Malbok—as determined by a lunar calendar. Of those South Koreans who do consume dog meat, 70 percent do so only seasonally during summer. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of all dog meat consumed in South Korea is eaten during Boknal. This relates to the traditional belief that eating dog meat will help people withstand the impacts of increased heat and humidity and maintain stamina.
What Breed of Dog Is Eaten the Most?
The dogs most commonly used for meat in South Korea are known as nureongi or yellow dogs. Though not officially recognized as a breed by any international body, the nureongi are characterized as being short-haired, mid-sized, and sporting yellow fur. These dogs are not commonly kept as pets in South Korea. Other breeds, including purebred animals, can also be found offered for consumption less often.
Is It Legal to Use Dogs for Meat in South Korea?
The laws pertaining to dogs in South Korea do not explicitly ban consuming them for food. In the most recent iteration of South Korea’s Animal Protection Act (2017), dogs have been classified as companion animals. This means that the trade in dogs for meat does not need to adhere to the standards put into place for other animals raised for agriculture. However, progress toward a ban has been made in recent years and activists are hopeful for the future. Most notably, in 2018 a court ruled that meat consumption was not a legal reason to kill dogs.
What Is the Current Situation of Dog Meat in South Korea?
The popularity of consuming dog meat, even during Boknal, has been decreasing. Those that do choose to consume dog meat in South Korea tend to be older people who still adhere to the belief that they can maintain their stamina and combat the heat by consuming traditional dishes such as boshintang—dog meat soup—or who consume it only when served by family or friends, typically during Boknal.
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 South Korea without restaurants that serve dog meat.
How You Can Help
Even though there are likely thousands of miles separating you from South Korea, there are still actions that you can take to support those attempting to bring about an end to the dog meat industry in the country.
When seeking to provide assistance, activists need to avoid xenophobia and prejudice against people from other countries and to correct those who use xenophobic arguments when they combat the dog meat trade. Survey data shows that South Koreans support the banning of dog meat. In response to their citizens, the government is taking action via its task force to further evaluate a potential ban on dog meat production and consumption. Clearly, South Korea is working to eliminate the worst suffering of dogs caused by the meat industry. As activists from the Global North, where discussions of the dog meat trade in South Korea frequently include minimizing the efforts of Korean activists and government entities, we should speak up to challenge and correct offensive and erroneous claims.
Consider Adopting a Dog
Following the closure of dog meat producers in South Korea, many of the dogs are rehomed to South Koreans, but 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.
Before adopting a dog imported from a meat farm, first consider the situation of the animal shelters in your area. The severity of pet overpopulation varies across communities, with some having empty kennels at their shelters while others are overcrowded. Due to the publicity that these dogs attract when imported, they typically enjoy a large amount of interest from potential adopters. If you’re in an area that suffers from severe overpopulation, consider adopting a shelter dog instead.
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 anxiety or lack of training will reduce the stress for both you and your new family member.
Organizations to Support
There are a number of organizations that seek to bring about the end of the Korean dog meat trade and provide for its canine victims. Below are just a couple to check out and consider supporting.
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 that you could consider supporting. 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 and provides shelter to animals, education for people, and seeks to bring about policy change on behalf of animals including on the issue of the dog meat industry.
Through their office in South Korea, 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.
Koreans are on the verge of banning the consumption of dog meat, thus bringing an end to a long practice of animal abuse. As we applaud their successes and help by supporting their initiatives, it is important that we recognize the suffering that is taking place in our own communities. Many commonly farmed animals such as pigs and cows are capable of forming bonds similar to those made by dogs, yet they are still eaten and suffer brutal lives followed by painful deaths on factory farms and in slaughterhouses around the world. One of the most impactful steps that we can take to reduce animal suffering is to reduce our consumption of their bodies whether they share our homes or not.
Grace is an animal advocate with a passion for social justice within the animal protection movement.