There are a growing number of Koreans who are passionately fighting the centuries-old practice of eating dog on the peninsula. Though a relatively small percentage of the Korean population eats dog meat, numbers suggest that a majority believe it is the right of others to do so. Exact statistics are hard to come by in the unregulated industry, but Korean animal rights groups put the number of dogs slaughtered annually for meat and health tonics at over 2.5 million. Food writer, Frankie Herrington, examines the past, the present and the future of this vestige of East Asian culture.
This is a copy of the BusanHaps article published online February 2012. It was controversial to say the least. People came out on both sides with some valid arguments and some childish name calling. Since it went live two responses where made, one by an anonymous blogger, who you can find on BusanHaps if you so desire, the other by Leo Mendoza founder of Busan Abandoned Pet Sanctuary (BAPS). The debate came down to whether or not regulation was the answer. As a vegan, my response was and still is NO.
BUSAN, South Korea — Controversy over the consumption of dog meat continues in South Korea, with both sides passionate in their beliefs. Increasingly, more and more Koreans are lining up to fight an industry that they feel is cruel and inhumane.
Activist groups like the Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE) and the Korean Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) are working tirelessly to stop dog meat consumption. Their goal is not only to raise awareness among Korean citizens of the abuse and mistreatment of dogs killed for meat, but also to demystify the international stereotype that all Koreans eat dogs.
Their fight is not insignificant. According to KARA, it is a $2 billion industry that results in the annual slaughter of over 2.5 million dogs, served in upwards of 20,000 restaurants nationwide. It is estimated that over 100,000 tons of dog meat is consumed annually, including 93,600 tons used to produce ‘health’ tonics called gaeoju.
Even prominent Korean celebrities have joined the cause. Famed soprano, Sumi Jo, recently donated 150 million won($134,000) towards the construction of Korea’s first Animal Protection Education Center. During the donation ceremony, Ms. Jo told the gathering: “Animals are sentient beings who should coexist with humans instead of being exploited. I believe our society needs a specialized education center for animal protection so that children can learn the importance and the values of lives.”
The effects of public involvement are starting to have an effect on what is considered an ancient tradition in both China and Korea. Last September, the three-day Jinhua Hutou Dog Meat Festival in China was abruptly canceled after officials were pressured by an online campaign featuring thousands of pictures of canine carcasses, some bloody and others cooked. The public outcry put an end to this 600-year-old festival.
Director of the group CARE, So-Yeon Park, explains in detail the life and death of dogs bred to be eaten by an industry that goes largely unregulated.
“Dogs are crowded in dirty cages their entire lives, left to constantly smell the accumulation of feces and urine underneath their cage. (They) are typically fed raw food waste that is not properly regulated or sanitized. This is a very serious health concern for the dogs and a public health hazard for those who eat them. When dogs are transported, they are crammed into cages so tight they cannot move their necks, faces, or legs. For hours, they are transported this way to markets, restaurants, and or slaughterhouses. Upon arrival, dogs are handled violently and often killed in front of one another.”
Death is deliberately slow due to the belief that torture improves the taste and “health” benefits of the meat. The typical method of slaughter is electrocution, which takes from 30 seconds to 3 minutes until the dog dies, beatings before and during slaughter, being burned with a blow-torch, boiled alive and bled out. The ‘old-fashion’ way involves hanging taking up to seven minutes.
Unlike other food industries, the dog meat industry is not required to meet hygiene standards, it pays no tax, is unregulated and largely ignored by authorities.
Dog meat market in Busan (Photo by Ben Weller)
In an effort to thwart disease, dog farmers liberally use antibiotics and reportedly, some dog meat traders inject the meat with steroids. Dogs have been known to have their eardrums burst to prevent barking. A KARA investigation documented dead puppies being ground up and fed to caged dogs. This conjures memories of the Western practice of feeding cow remains back to cattle, causing the spread bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as Mad Cow disease.
As a result of similar practices, farmed dogs exhibit symptoms of physical disease and mental distress due to a lack of veterinary care, poor diet and cumulative stress, causing significant signs of depression, frustration, aggression and repetitive behaviors.
Not All Dog Meat is Farmed, Some Were Pets
According to KARA, there is a common misperception that a distinction exists between the species of dog for consumption. Ddong-gae, commonly called ‘yellow dogs,’ are edible livestock and other breeds are pets available at your local pet store and supposedly not for consumption.
Although some dog-meat restaurants claim they only serve yellow-dogs, evidence indicates that all breeds of dogs are potential meals.
In September of last year, a government run shelter in Gumi designed to “care” for stray animals was accused of collecting stray dogs for consumption, rather than abiding by their proclaimed mandate to help them. Trucks regularly canvas rural areas with speakers blaring ‘I buy dogs.’ And anyone can sell a stray, abandoned or stolen dog for money.
Video evidence from an undercover expose by KBS2 last year showed numerous breeds of dogs in cages, and dogs being killed for soup. There was also a highly publicized case last year of a customer eating Boshintang (dog stew) in Daejeon, who found four metal screws in one of the bones. The dog had at one time been a pet who underwent expensive hip surgery.
KBS undercover documentaries with English subtitles
Why Eat Dog?
There is a belief in South Korea that eating dog-meat is good for your health. The most popular dish, Boshintang, is traditionally consumed on the three hottest days of the lunar calendar, known as ‘boknal’ or ‘bok’ days, Chobok, Sambok and Malbok.
An article in the ‘Korean Journal of Food and Nutrition’ suggests that dog eating originated during the era of Samkug (57BC to AD676), but waned during Buddhist rule, then reappeared in the 13th century. Definitive details are vague, but scholars generally agree that the Chinese have eaten dog for at least 7,000 years and Korea followed suit there after. References to the use of dogs as food have been found in wall paintings depicting a slaughtered dog in a storehouse in the Goguryeo tombs complex in South Hwangghae Province, a UNESCO World Heritage site which dates from 4th century AD.
The general public now holds one of two points of view. Traditionalists believe that dogs in Korea were historically bred for food not companionship, although it was more common to hunt wild dogs than to farm them. They point to the ancient paintings mentioned above and of dogs living with livestock as well as stories passed down through generations. They defend the right to eat dog meat, and in more recent times, link eating dog to their national identity and accuse opponents of practicing Western imperialism.
The dog breed most commonly eaten as food is called ddong-gae – literally meaning “shit-dog”. There is evidence that the breed was named so because they were sometimes fed human feces. Dogs were also referred to as ‘meong-meong’ the Korean equivalent to the words ‘bow wow.’ Suggesting the relationship between dog and men was not of friendship.
The other view is that widespread dog eating didn’t occur until the 20th century during Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945), when the country suffered intense famine. Most edible produce was being exported to Japan, leaving little for the Korean people. As eating dog had been prohibited in Japan since AD675, Koreans were left with nothing else to eat except dog.
Supporters of the dog meat industry point to the alleged health benefits as the reason to consume dogs.
‘Evidence’ that dog meat contains medicinal properties is over 400-years-old. The 1578 Chinese medical encyclopedia Bonchogangmog and the Korean Dongeuibogam, written by Her Joon in 1613 during the Chosun dynasty, attests that:
“[dog meat] comforts the digestive systems, such as small and large intestines, strengthens our stomach, supplements marrow to warm our knees and waist, and raises vigor to make men virile when bodies are fatigued and damaged, it can help keep bodies healthy, and circulate the blood smoothly. In quality, yellow furred dog is best, followed by black furred dog, and finally white furred dog. Yellow furred dog is good for men and black furred dog for women. Roasting dog meat can cause diabetes.”
There is however substantial support that dog meat is actually bad for your health.
A study by nutritional physiologist, Irwin H. Putzkoff, along with Cho Byung-Ho, and Oh Jin-Hwan, examined how the stress, fear, and pain experienced by dogs when slaughtered, or waiting to be slaughtered, resulted in several diseases in rats who ate the meat. His findings discovered “an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Gaegogi Muchim, a common preparation of dog meat
The hormones in question are adrenalin, cortisone-like secretions, and steroids that stimulate the fear pheromone production.
Laboratory rats fed dog meat ceased to reproduce after a period as short as two weeks. They suffered cardiac problems, general fatigue and impotency, and there was a small reduction in physical size of the sexual organs – the penis shrunk. How interesting that this contridicts the commonly held belief that dog meat increases virility
In the journal PLoS Medicine, Dr Heiman Wertheim also reported on a case of human rabies infection transmitted by eating infected dog meat, Wertheim continues by saying that the, “Slaughtering of dogs has been reported as a risk for rabies transmission in the Philippines and in China. An epidemiological survey in China reported that two out of 64 patients contracted rabies by either killing, cooking, or consuming dogs. These data illustrate that the risk of transmission through butchering and processing of rabid animals is not restricted to Viet Nam.” Further highlighting the dangers of consumption.
For a break down of the nutritional value, see chart at the bottom.
Is it Even Legal?
Dogs are caught in a conflict over their socio-legal status as companions and livestock animal. The law does not recognize dogs as a legitimate food, nor does it clearly ban the sale or slaughter of dogs for food.
Under the Livestock Act of 1963, dogs are, “domestic animals.” But they are not included in the Livestock and Processing Act of 1962. These two laws have been at the center of the policy discussion in relation to the legalization of dog meat.
In 1984, the sale of dog meat was outlawed when the Seoul City Government issued a regulation outlawing dog meat sale labeling it as ‘disgusting food.’ Then, when Seoul held the 1988 Olympics, controversy over Korea’s dog-eating received unprecedented international publicity and scorn. In reaction, the Government created South Korea’s first animal protection legislation, the Animal Welfare Law of 1991, followed by the Animal Protection Act 2007, which was recently amended in 2011.
‘An act of killing in a cruel way such as hanging’ and ‘an act of killing in an open area such as on the street or in front of other animals of the same kind watching’ are explicitly prohibited until Article 7(1) of the Animal Protection Act of 2007. Hanging is a common method of killing dogs, usually taking place behind restaurants or at markets before the dogs make their way to the table.
South Korean’s Views on Dog Consumption
Accumulating solid statistics are difficult with a media-wary industry and a general public that might not wish to openly discuss the topic.
According to the Korean Animal Protection Society, figures on consumption of dog meat vary widely. The site states that “A small percentage would eat it regularly. This would be people in the older age bracket. Some say around 30% of Koreans have tried it, while others say around 60%. Another survey found that 42% of respondents ate dog meat.”
Dog meat protest by young Koreans have increased along with their passion.
As for opinions on regulation, a 2004 World Society for Protection of Animals survey found that 70% of Koreans found it was a matter of personal choice and there was nothing wrong with eating dog meat.
In a 2006 MAF online survey, 43% of respondents agreed with the phrases, ‘Although I do not eat dog meat, I think there is no need to eradicate it.”
A 2004 MORI survey showed that 55% of people opposed the use of dogs for food, but only 24% supported an actual ban.
KARA also cites a more recent Korean Ministry of Agriculture survey that found 59% of Koreans under 30-years-old would not eat dog and 62% of under 30-year-olds regarded dogs as pets and not food.
Whether or not the majority of South Koreans are for or against killing and eating dog meat is inconclusive. Yet, a casual assessment would lead one to believe that young Koreans consider dogs to be companion animals rather than dinner fare. Whereas the older generation either believe that dogs are a healthy form of food.
The issue has reached an impasse. Debates continue between animal welfare groups and the Korean Government on whether to legalize or outlaw the sale of dog-meat.
Is regulation the answer? The industry is of course against regulation as it would require premises inspections. “It worries me that the inspection will keep our guests from dining here,” the owner of the restaurant, Ssarigol, told the Korea Times. “We do our best to serve delicious and safe dishes.”
Even some customers are nervous about inspections – due to worry of castigation. “We couldn’t agree more on the necessity of the inspection,” said a man eating Boshintang at a restaurant in Seoul, for the same Korea Times article. “But we feel bad about eating dog meat when we see inspectors around the restaurant. It should be done in a quieter manner.”
Animal welfare groups are against regulation as well, as it is unlikely to improve conditions for dogs, only improve the conditions for people. Recall the government’s culling of 1.4 million pigs by burying them alive in March 2011 for fear of disease transmission? Or you can see regulations at work in the confinements of battery hens or the conditions of factory farmed pigs. The Government sees dog meat is a health concern involving traditional beliefs; Animal welfare issues will likely be relegated to the lowest priority.
Essentially, very little has changed since the dog-meat industry reached the attention of the international media. Traditions are important to all cultures, but there needs to be space for change as our understanding of the world improves.
The debate of dog meat consumption should not be about cultural expression. What should be debated is the rationale for these traditions, taking into account all we have learned from medicine and science over the centuries.
We must consider the evolution of our humanity. It was once tradition to sacrifice young female slaves to the Slavic god of war. Thankfully, that custom lost its luster. More recently, Catalonia of Spain outlawed their tradition of bull-fighting, as it caused unnecessary suffering and death to bulls in the name of entertainment. Should we not also show compassion to an animal that has long been regarded as “man’s best friend?”
As long as the fallacies of health and of virility gained from eating dog meat continues, the people of Korea will feel little need to pressure the government to create and enforce protection laws. And unabated, the government is unlikely to create difficulties for the highly profitable dog-meat industry.
The answer, in my opinion, is to apply pressure to the government. Write to government officials and get involved with KARA and CARE, two wonderful Korean-based organizations that work hard to protect these noble creatures that deserve a far better fate than being slaughtered and eaten.
Change is possible.
- 675 – Japan abolishes dog meat
- 1613 – Her Joon authors Korean medical encyclopedia ‘Dongeuibogam’ touting dog-meat as a health food
- 1988 – Seoul Olympic Games. Government ban dog-meat sales and consumption
- 2000 – Thailand abolishes dog meat
- 2001 – Taiwan abolishes dog meat
- 2001 – Permission granted to build a large scale dog farm in northern Jeju island
- 2002 – South Korea hosts World Cup. FIFA President, Sepp Blatter requests that Korea take, “immediate and decisive measures to put an end to this cruelty”
- 2005 – Dog Meat Sanitation Management Policy unveiled. Intended as a step towards legalization
- 2007 – Korea’s first Animal Protection Law (Amended 2011)
- 2009 – Dr Heiman Wertheim links rabies infections to eating dog meat in Vietnam
- 2011 – 1.4 million pigs buried alive by Korean government for fear of disease transmission
- 2011 – Korean undercover television KBS2 expose various species of dog being tortured, hung and electrocuted for their meat
- 2011 – Metal screws found in Daejon customer’s Boshintang
The nutritional value of dog meat (Based on 100g serving)
|Ingredient||Unit||Dog meat (raw)||Bosintang|