Inside South Korea’s Declining Dog Meat Industry

An animal rights protester next to a dog in South Korea.
Chung Chung-Joon/Getty Images

  • In April of this year, South Korea’s first lady, Kim Kyon, promised to try to stop the consumption of dog meat in South Korea.
  • His statement drew backlash from the dog meat industry.
  • Dog meat has been a traditional food source in South Korea for centuries, but it has been in decline for years.

South Korea’s dog meat trade has reached its final stage.

After being a traditional food source for hundreds of years, its place in South Korean cuisine has been contested over the past few decades.

In 2016, the industry was responsible for supplying approximately 2 million dogs for meat from approximately 17,000 dog farms. By 2023, the number of dogs for meat has fallen from about 700,000 to 1 million, and the number of farms has fallen from about 3,000 to 4,000.

For centuries, South Koreans have been eating dog meat.

A chef cooks dog meat at a restaurant in South Korea.
Chung Sun-joon/Getty Images

It is believed to regulate body temperature, so it is often eaten on hot days. A common stew was called „mong-mong dong,” which translates to „woof-woof stew.”

proof’s: Time, The New York Times, Guardian, Guardian

South Korea is not the only country where dog meat is eaten. It is consumed in Vietnam, Indonesia, China, North Korea and throughout Africa.

A man grills dog meat in Cambodia in 2013.
Igor Bilic/Getty Images

According to the Animal Rights Group, in 2017, around 30 million dogs were killed annually in Asia for their meat.

proof’s: Time, BBC, The New York Times, Guardian

South Korea’s dog meat trade has come under increasing scrutiny over the past decade.

Dogs look out of their cages at a dog farm during a rescue event in South Korea.
Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

This is partly due to its reputation as a wealthy country and having a decent dog breeding industry.

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proof’s: Conversation, Time, BBC

Another reason is some of the brutal techniques involved.

South Korean animal rights activists display images of dead dogs during a protest against the dog meat trade in front of the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea.
Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images

In 2018, Mark Singh, an activist with the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, told USA Today that the issue is how the dogs are killed.

„In Korea, they usually put a rope around the dog’s neck, take them out again, hang them and beat them,” Singh said. „Another method is that they crack the head open.”

Sometimes they give electricity,” he said. „They shock them and burn them or peel them off

proof’s: Conversation, Guardian, USA Today

Another reason is vocal opposition from animal rights groups over the years.

Activists from animal rights groups hold dead puppies rescued from a dog meat farm during a protest in Seoul, South Korea.
Ed Jones//AFP via Getty Images

The struggle has also had an impact elsewhere. Last month in Indonesia, authorities announced a ban on the slaughter of dogs and cats at a meat market on the island of Sulawesi after protests from activists and celebrities.

proof’s: Time, AP

South Korea’s dog meat industry has been in decline for years. In 2016, around 17,000 dog farms provided around 2 million dogs for meat.

Two dogs await slaughter in South Korea
Chung Chung-Joon/Getty Images

The farms provided a variety of dogs, including Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Chihuahuas, Huskies and Rottweilers.

proof’s: The New York Times, Al Jazeera

By 2023, the number of dogs fed to restaurants will drop from about 700,000 to 1 million, and the number of dogs fed to farms will drop from about 3,000 to 4,000.

An activist holds a poster protesting the dog meat trade during a rally in South Korea.
Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images

proof’s: The New York Times, Al Jazeera, The New York Times, Al Jazeera

In 2018, South Korea faced increased international scrutiny when it hosted the Winter Olympics.

A woman poses with her dogs near the Olympic rings in South Korea.
Carl-Joseph Hilton Brand/Image Alliance/Getty Images

The government knew it was coming and offered restaurants a cash incentive of 2 million won, or about $1,850, to stop serving dog meat and remove it from their signs.

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But this was not taken up by many restaurants, and even the few who accepted the offer lost so much business that they returned to selling dog meat dishes.

Source: NBC News

Korean dog meat farmers have argued that the dogs they breed are different from those kept as pets. But this difference has narrowed in South Korea over the past three decades.

A woman walks a dog in Buxon Hanok Village, South Korea.
Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Joo Young Ha, a professor at the Academy of Korean Studies, told NBC News that in the late 1980s, people in South Korea did not keep dogs as pets. They were primarily a source of meat.

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He said it was only in the 1990s that South Korea began adopting Western trends such as keeping dogs as pets. As of 2019, nearly 5 million South Korean households had pets.

proof’s: BBC, CNN, NBC News

Suh Yoon-kook, a professor of psychology at Yonsei University, told CNN that humans have a different relationship with dogs because the animals provide „unconditional gratification.”

A woman holds a dog on her shoulder at Gangneung Beach in South Korea.
Henrik Schmidt/Image Alliance/Getty Images

„People judge people but dogs don’t judge people,” he told CNN.

He added: „This unconditional love of dogs has contributed to the growing popularity of dogs as pets.”

proof’s: BBC, CNN

In 2021, the government established a task force to review the dog meat industry and the ban was imposed after a poll showed that 84% of Koreans no longer eat dog meat.

A caged dog looks out during a rescue event following the closure of a farm in Namyangju, a suburb of Seoul, South Korea.
Yung Yeon-Ye/AFP/Getty Images

The same poll showed that only 59% of South Koreans wanted to ban dog meat.

So far no ban has been imposed even after meeting more than 20 times.

proof’s: Euro news, Time, BBC

In April, South Korea’s first lady, Kim Kyon-hee, announced that she would „try to stop eating dog meat before the end of this government’s term.”

South Korea’s first lady Kim Kyon-hee steps out of her motorcade in Washington.
Manuel Pauls Seneta/AP

„I think it’s my duty,” he said. In response, dog breeders banded together and filed formal complaints against him.

But Han Jeong-ae, a South Korean politician, told Time that she applauded Kim’s announcement and has introduced proposed legislation to end the trade. His bill would compensate farmers who voluntarily close their farms.

proof’s: South China Morning Post, Al Jazeera, Time

Yoon Su-wol, a dog meat restaurant owner in Seoul, told TIME that the days of the booming dog trade are already over.

A South Korean dog farmer eats dog meat during an anti-animal rally in Seoul, South Korea. Yoon Su-wol is not in the picture.
Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images

„I only make about a third of what I used to make,” Yoon said. „Young people don’t come here. Only sick old people come for lunch.”

Source: Time

It is not yet clear whether the dog meat industry will be banned.

A chef cooks dog meat soup at a restaurant in Seoul, South Korea.
Chung Chung-Joon/Getty Images

The Dog Breeders’ Association has asked for the chance to continue until its core customers – mostly among the elderly – die off and the industry fades away naturally, which it estimates will happen in about 20 years.

Source: Time

But that demand has not been accepted and many animal rights groups have said they oppose the industry’s slow wind.

South Korean animal rights activists protest against the dog meat trade in front of the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea.
Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

Source: Time

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