South Korea passes law banning dog meat trade

  • By Jean McKenzie, Jake Kwon and Hosu Lee
  • in Seoul

Image caption,

Dogs imprisoned in a dog meat farm in South Korea

The slaughter and sale of dogs for meat will become illegal in South Korea after lawmakers backed a new law.

The legislation, due to come into force by 2027, aims to end the centuries-old practice of people eating dog meat.

A dog meat stew called “boshintang” is considered a delicacy among some older South Koreans, but the meat has fallen out of favor among diners and is no longer popular among young people.

Under the new law, the consumption of dog meat itself will not be illegal.

According to a Gallup poll last year, only 8 percent of people said they had tried dog meat in the past 12 months, down from 27 percent in 2015. Less than a fifth of those surveyed said they supported eating the meat.

Lee Chae-yeon, a 22-year-old student, said the ban was necessary to promote animal rights. “Today, more people have pets,” she told the BBC in Seoul. “Dogs are like family now, and it’s not nice to eat our family.”

The new law focuses on the dog meat trade – those convicted of slaughtering dogs face up to three years in prison, while people found guilty of breeding dogs for meat or selling dog meat can serve a maximum of two years.

Farmers and restaurant owners have three years to find alternative sources of work and income before the legislation takes effect.

According to government statistics, South Korea had about 1,600 dog meat restaurants and 1,150 dog farms in 2023, all of which will now have to submit a plan to phase out their business to local authorities.

The government has pledged to fully support dog meat producers, butchers and restaurant owners whose businesses will be forced to close, although details of what compensation will be offered have yet to be worked out.

image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Current President Yoon Suk-yeol and his wife own six dogs and have called for a ban on dog meat

On a Tuesday afternoon in Seoul, down an alley with several dog meat restaurants, a handful of older people were tucking into the stew, and the generational divide was stark.

Kim Seon Ho, 86, was disappointed by the ban. “We’ve been eating this since the Middle Ages. Why are they stopping us from eating our traditional food?” he said. “If you ban dog meat, then you should ban beef.”

Previous governments dating back to the 1980s have promised to ban dog meat but failed to make progress. Current President Yoon Suk-yeol and First Lady Kim Keon-hee are known animal lovers – they have six dogs and Mrs Kim has called for an end to the practice of eating dogs.

Animal rights groups, which have long pushed for the ban, praised the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.

Jung Ah Chae, executive director of the Humane Society of Korea, said she was surprised to see the ban in her lifetime. “While my heart breaks for all the millions of dogs for whom this change came too late, I am extremely happy that South Korea can now close this unfortunate chapter in our history and embrace a dog-friendly future,” she said.

Dog meat producers campaigned against the ban. They argue that given its declining popularity among young people, the practice should be allowed to die out naturally over time. Many farmers and restaurateurs are elderly and said it would be difficult for them to change their livelihood so late in life.

One dog breeder, Joo Yong Bong, told the BBC the industry was in despair.

“In 10 years, the industry would have disappeared. We are in our 60s and 70s and now we have no choice but to lose our livelihood,” he said, adding that it was “an infringement on people’s freedom to eat what they like”.

One owner of a dog meat restaurant in her 60s, Ms Kim, told the BBC she was disappointed by the ban and blamed the rise in the number of people in South Korea owning pets.

“Young people these days don’t get married, so they think of pets as family, but food is food. We should accept dog meat, but raise and slaughter them in a hygienic environment,” she said.

“Other countries like China and Vietnam eat dogs, so why are we banning it?”

video caption,

South Koreans debate dog meat

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