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Dog meat ban in Korea faces backlash as farmers bite back

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Members of an association of dog farmers protest the government's proposed dog meat ban in front of the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul, last November. The banner reads, ″The rights to eat is foremost!″ [YONHAP]
Members of an association of dog farmers protest the government’s proposed dog meat ban in front of the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul, last November. The banner reads, ″The rights to eat is foremost!″ [YONHAP]

Korea’s recently passed dog meat ban is facing a backlash from dog farmers threatening to unleash 2 million dogs in Seoul.

On Tuesday, the National Assembly passed a bill prohibiting the breeding, slaughter, distribution and sale of dogs for consumption.

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In response, the head of an association of dog farmers called the bill “insane” during an interview on Wednesday with SBS radio, a local broadcaster. He said the bill “violates the people’s basic rights — property rights, right to maintain a livelihood and right to survive.”

He also threatened to release 2 million dogs — raised by 3,500 dog farmers nationwide — in front of the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul, as a last resort.

“Without proper compensation given to the farmers, all the remaining dogs [raised for meat] will go unleashed. It is our gesture of surrendering the dogs to the government,” he added.

According to the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, the association is demanding the government pay farmers at least 2 million won ($1,514) per dog.

However, the government says it cannot accept the demand, arguing that paying compensation per animal is internationally unprecedented. In addition, more than 4 trillion won would be needed to accommodate their demand.

A restaurant in Seoul that sells dog meat soup on Wednesday [YONHAP]
A restaurant in Seoul that sells dog meat soup on Wednesday [YONHAP]

The bill affects everyone in the dog meat businesses, including eatery owners and distributors.

“The bill puts me in a tight corner and dims my current business as it strictly forbids the sale of dogs [for consumption] and their meat,” said a 64-year-old vendor owner at Moran Market in Seongnam, Gyeonggi.

“The government ignored a petition from vendors to legalize the slaughter of dogs raised for consumption.”

Moran Market is one of the nation’s largest dog meat marketplaces.

“The prohibition challenges vendors’ livelihood directly. Although the vendors should abide by governmental decisions and laws, the vendors hope the government can provide proper support for us,” said Mr. Kim, who runs a geongangwon and dog meat eatery at Moran Market.

Geongangwon make edible juices and medicinal concoctions using ingredients believed to be nutritious — including herbs and all kinds of animals.

Animal rights activists welcome the National Assembly's passing of a bill that bans dog meat on Wednesday. [YONHAP]
Animal rights activists welcome the National Assembly’s passing of a bill that bans dog meat on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

A three-year grace period will last until 2027.

However, vendors demand cash compensation as the bill directly impacts their businesses.

“Although the government plans to lend us money at low interest, no one will welcome the measure when it only puts people in debt” in return for giving up their businesses involuntarily, Kim said.

As the bill directly challenges their current business mode, some vendors are altering the source of their livelihood as a potential way out.

In fact, the bill is changing the landscape of Moran Market.

“Since the National Assembly passed the bill on Tuesday, I will end my dog meat business and make black goat the eatery’s signature,” Kim said. “We have removed dog meat dishes from the menu because we are uncomfortable with people’s perception.”

He added that dog meat customers have halved in recent years. “Proportionally speaking, if 10 people order black goat, only two people order dog meat,” he added.

“My place used to be packed with people seeking dog meat during the summer boknal — the hottest summer days in the lunar calendar. We now sell it only to customers who specifically ask for it.”

Inside Kim’s eatery, only one table had customers at lunchtime on Tuesday. They ordered black goat soup, not dog meat.

Vendors and eateries at Moran Market in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, advertise their black goat dishes on Tuesday. [JOONGANG ILBO]
Vendors and eateries at Moran Market in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, advertise their black goat dishes on Tuesday. [JOONGANG ILBO]

Kim, also a leader of a committee of livestock vendors in the market, said the market would rebrand the alleyway “black goat street” and carry out promotional activities.

The other side of the market, where the five-day market opened, was bustling with crowds and visitors.

“As far as I know, most dog meat vendors went out of their businesses [in Moran Market]. Some vendors sell dog meat only to a handful of loyal customers,” a 74-year-old visitor named Lee said.

The market’s so-called “livestock street,” where dozens of geongangwon are, was quieter than usual. Only several vendor owners and three to four middle-aged customers were visible.

Of the street’s 20 vendors, only one explicitly advertised that they sold dog meat with signs that read “dog meat soup,” “dog meat” and “dog soju.”

Most of the vendors in the Moran Market had already switched their signature to black goat dishes.

In Seoul, many dog meat soup restaurants closed their businesses even before the bill’s passing.

Inside a narrow alley in Dongdaemun District, eastern Seoul, a former dog meat soup restaurant was partly demolished. People now use it as a parking space.

According to a nearby dog meat vendor, the demolished eatery went out of business around six months ago. The owner added that other owners are thinking of shutting down businesses.

“If the country forbids dog meat, vendors and restaurant owners should follow the law,” the owner said.

BY LEE BO-RAM, HA SU-YOUNG, LEE SOO-JUNG [lee.soojung1@joongang.co.kr]