Eating dog meat... South Korea's unsolved question
Updated: 2021-10-08 17:06:52 KST
This is Daegu Chilsung dog meat market, the only dog meat market left in the country.
Open since the early 1950s, the market is still keeping alive an antiquated piece of Korean culture, eating dog meat.
"For cultures that raised livestock, dogs were important animals because they herd cattle. So they couldn't eat their dogs. But for farming cultures, like the Korean Peninsula, southern parts of China, and some Southeast Asian regions, people considered dogs to be one of the few ways to consume animal protein. They didn't always eat dogs, but they did so when there was a special event like a neighborhood feast."
"I was born in the countryside, and back then, if it was somebody's 60th birthday, people would boil dog meat and have a feast."
But the waning popularity of dog meat has seen most of the country's dog meat restaurants and markets close.
"A lot of stores have closed up shop. The merchants have left, and not many people look for dog meat anymore. I feel like it's now a third of what it was 20 years ago. A lot of people come here to protest about dog meat as well."
The 14 remaining dog meat stores here sell foods like dog meat soup, meat slices, and medicinal broth strained from dog meat.
But now.. they too might be about to disappear into history, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently suggesting a ban on dog meat.
"President Moon Jae-in has said that maybe it was time to review banning dog meat."
"Lately, the voices of policymakers and animal activists have been drowning out the few remaining dog meat merchants. So we came here.. to Daegu Chilsung Market to hear the merchants' side of the story."
The merchants seemed to be on edge fearful that their livelihoods could be taken away at a moment's notice.
"How are we going to make a living when dog meat is just banned. I've been doing this for decades. I can't just suddenly change and do something new at my age."
"Most of these dog meat stores have been open for decades. And for some, it's a family business handed down through the generations."
"The government should come up with a plan for us, they can't just ban our means of living You know, because the younger generation doesn't eat dog meat, the culture is going to go away naturally when the elderly pass away, so there's no need for all this fuss right now."
Eating dog meat IS a dying culture.
According to a survey last year, almost 84 percent of the respondents said that they have never eaten dog meat, and never intend to.
The growing distaste for dog meat is likely to do with the increase in pets and the change in how South Koreans view animals.
"Before the 80s, dogs were considered livestock rather than pets. But ever since South Koreans started raising dogs as pets from the mid-90s, there has been a major change. From the 2000s, dog meat has been a generational conflict within South Korea. Since the 1980s, men in their 50s or older are the main consumers of dog meat."
So does this mean the ban on dog meat isn't necessary?
We asked some members of the public for their view on the issue.
"I'm very much against dog meat. Dogs are just very close to our lives, so eating it just doesn't seem morally right."
"I think dog meat can be viewed as Korean culture and it's meat just like beef or pork."
"I personally don't think there's nothing wrong with it, because the culture of eating meat is subjective all around the world and what we consider to be pets is entirely subjective."
"The way people perceive dog meat is changing based on the times. We need to change our perspective and follow the trend."
But animal activists say that this issue cannot wait until the culture dies out and that there needs to be action now.
Activists say that South Korea is the only country in the world to have organized dog farms that collectively slaughter thousands of dogs.
They estimate more than one million dogs are killed this way every year.
"Dogs were removed from the Livestock Control Act in 1978. So for 43 years,.. the dog meat industry has been left unattended. And because there's no regulations, the dogs are being slaughtered in very brutal ways and in unsanitary environments. We have to start by protecting the animal that's the closest to our lives if we want to start protecting other animals too."
A precedent has already been set by Taiwan, which banned the consumption of dog meat in 2017 under the Animal Protection Act.
"Even it's culture, you can think, whether this culture can be changed, can be modified or totally get rid of ."
"What do you think is the difference between Taiwan and South Korea, for South Korea to be taking longer than Taiwan to ban dog meat?"
"In Taiwan, you can't really say that there's an industry,… but in Korea you have restaurant, you have farms. so that is difference. It's become an industry already. So yes, I think the government may spend more time to evaluate policy but to have it developed, and to discuss it with the industry."
"Legislators have been dragging their feet on this tricky issue, careful not to take sides.
But with the current South Korean president suggesting the ban of dog meat, it seems like the time to stamp out a clear decision is nearing.
Kim Yeon-seung, Arirang News"