South Korea's history of eating dog meat

In South Korea, the centuries-old custom of consuming dog meat is neither expressly forbidden nor sanctioned. It has long been thought to provide endurance throughout the sweltering summer months.
Last Updated : 09 January 2024, 15:12 IST
Last Updated : 09 January 2024, 15:12 IST

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On January 9, the South Korean parliament enacted a bill outlawing the historic practice of breeding, killing, and selling dogs for meat. For years, advocates have referred to this as a blot on their nation.

A three-year grace period will be followed before the implementation of the ban, which was approved on Tuesday with 208 votes in favour, 0 votes against, and 2 abstentions. A punishment of up to 30 million won ($22,800) or three years in prison will apply to individuals who breed, butcher, distribute, or sell dog meat for human consumption as of 2027.

The sale and trade of dog meat in South Korea has generated strong public discussion. The Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C. estimates that South Koreans kill two million dogs annually for food, eating 100,000 metric tonnes of dog meat. According to estimates from Humane Society International, 30 million dogs are murdered annually for food worldwide. The public's disapproval of the centuries-old habit has grown over time due to worries about animal abuse.

According to the 2020 reports of the Humane Society International conducted by Nielsen, about 84 per cent of South Koreans either haven't eaten dog meat or say they won't in the future; 59 per cent of them are in favor of outlawing it; and 57 per cent of them—up from 37 per cent in 2017—think that eating dog meat reflects poorly on the country.

The non-profit International Aid for Korean Animals asserts that dog meat consumption is not a deeply ingrained tradition in South Korea's history or culture, despite evidence indicating that it occurred there over a millennium ago.

The organization also claims that even in the direst circumstances, eating dogs was not customary. Similar to other places, dogs were only eaten as a last resort to prevent starvation. Then, at some point in the previous century, a few older men started engaging in the practice because of its purported health benefits for virility.

In South Korea, the centuries-old custom of consuming dog meat is neither expressly forbidden nor sanctioned. It has long been thought to provide endurance throughout the sweltering summer months. The three warmest days in the summer, known as Bok days in the lunar calendar, are when this is most evident.

Dog meat intake has evolved over millennia, despite the majority of researchers believing there is no proof that it has ever played a significant role in Korean culture and cuisine. This includes changes in legislation, cultural norms, and the rate of consumption.

The precise date of Koreans' initial dog meat consumption is unknown, however many academics date it to the Neolithic era (6000–2000 BCE), when East Asian civilizations were still in their infancy. Scholars from Korea and the West agree that there is archaeological evidence of dog bones from this era that show indications of ingestion of dog meat.

According to the History of Korean Buddhism, since Buddhism was the official religion of both the Silla (57 BCE–935 CE) and Goryeo (918–1392 CE) regimes, the practice was unusual. Eating meat was frowned upon during the Goryeo Dynasty. A ban on the consumption of dog flesh was promoted among certain government officials during the Joseon Dynasty, who claimed that dogs were human companions.

Dogs are also consumed in North Korea, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and several African and Amercan nations, but, because South Korea is known for being a cultural and economic powerhouse, the country's dog meat sector has attracted increased attention. Furthermore, it is the only country that has large-scale industrial dog farms. While most South Korean dog farms house 500 dogs, one that The Associated Press saw in July housed over 7,000.

Dog breeders have fiercely opposed previous attempts to outlaw the meat from dogs. In order to allow enterprises to exit the industry, the new law will pay the businesses compensation.

Published 09 January 2024, 15:12 IST

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