South Korea ban: Is it unethical to eat dog meat?

The ban on the consumption of dog meat in South Korea is largely supported by President Yoon Suk Yeol and his wife Kim Keon-hee who are lovers and owners of dogs.

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File photo of a dog - Credit: Bing image

On Tuesday, January 9, South Korea passed a bill to ban the consumption and trade of dog meat in the country. This legislation draws the curtains on the years-long practice among some – mostly now elderly – people of South Korea.

The arguments

The bill passed by parliament met stiff opposition from several dog meat lovers right before the consideration of the bill into law. Mostly older South Koreans and dog farmers who have lived with this tradition staged a protest against the bill in Seoul, the country’s capital, in November 2023.

Many argue that it will be hard to switch jobs in their late years when the dog meat trade could have been allowed to die naturally (since younger generations don’t feel as strongly about the consumption or don’t eat dog meat at all).

“In 10 years, the industry would have disappeared. We’re in our 60s and 70s and now we have no choice but to lose our livelihoods. ‘This is’ an infringement of people’s freedom to eat what they like,” Joo Yeong-bong, a dog farmer told the BBC.

“We’ve eaten this since the Middle Ages. Why stop us from eating our traditional food? If you ban dog meat then you should ban beef,” said 86-year-old Kim Seon-ho.

On the contrary, the campaign manager for the ban on dog meat consumption at Humane Society International in South Korea, Lee Sung Kyung argues that the bill passed by the legislators is a step in the right direction. 

“It was once popular when our food resources (were) scarce, such as during the Korean War, but as the economy develops and people’s perception towards animals and our food consumption, food choices, and things change, then I think it’s the right time to move with the times,” Lee said.

The facts

The exact date Koreans started consuming dog meat can’t clearly be stated but the practice dates between 6000 and 2000 BCE. That is the Neolithic period when human beings were gradually getting accustomed to the lifestyle of farming and obtaining proteins from animals as food.

Additionally, the 1950 to 1953 Korean War made dog meat the easiest food one could find after the ruins. Countries like China, Vietnam, North Korea and Indonesia eat dog meat.

The bill to ban dog meat consumption and trade in South Korea will take full force in 2027. The government explains that the three-year interval will provide the dog meat industry with ample time to switch to different lines of business. Moreover, the government will support the money needed for this transition.

The dog meat bill received an unexpected consensus from the ruling and opposition parties in South Korea. The bill recorded 208 votes in approval, 2 abstentions and none against. A move that reverberates several years of protests from animal protection groups and the younger South Koreans to prohibit the inhumane killing and consumption of dog meat.

A three-year jail term or a fine of 30 million won will be meted out to an individual who will flout the conditions of the ban. However, individuals who are found eating dog meat will not be subjected to these punishments as the law targets the dog meat industry -dog farmers, and dog meat restaurant owners among others.

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