Frequently Asked Questions
Sharing from Korea Animal Rights Advocates(KARA)
- I heard that dog meat was illegal, so why are dog farms still operating, and why is dog meat still being traded and eaten at restaurants without the police doing anything about it?
- What is the problem with eating dog meat? People in other countries eat all kinds of animals, such as pigs or cows. So why does KARA make an issue about dog meat?
- People should welcome the government’s moves to control the dog meat industry, shouldn’t they? The legalizing of dog meat and the introduction of sanitation laws is a good thing, isn’t it? Why do animal protection groups complain about these initiatives?
- I’ve read news and seen videos about how the terrible treatment of animals by Koreans. Why is there such a bad attitude towards animals in Korea? Do the majority of Koreans treat animals badly? Are the majority of people in Korea ignorant of animal issues?
- I agree with Koreans when they say foreigners should not tell them to ban dog meat eating. It’s part of Korean tradition, so they don’t have the right to criticize the eating of dog meat, do they?
- Someone told me that at some Korean restaurants you can order a dish where an octopus is fried alive right at your table. Sometimes they cut up the poor octopus while it is alive. I can’t believe people would be that cruel. Is it really true?
- I read somewhere that cats are actually boiled alive to make some kind of medicine. They even have their legs broken so they can’t escape. I can’t believe this is true because it’s so barbaric and cruel. Is it really true?
- I saw some horrific news about animals, such as a baby pig, being tortured and cut to pieces at a protest rally. How can people get away with such atrocities in a civilized country? It brings shame on Korea so why does the government allow it to happen?
- Why is the Korean government so weak when it comes to the protection of animals? It seems like the government and the police just want to ignore anything to do with animals. Do the authorities really ignore animal welfare in Korea?
- Since Korea is a small country, it just has small family farms, doesn’t it? The kind of horrors seen in factory farming in Western countries wouldn’t happen in Korea, would they?
- I knew China was guilty of torturing black bears by keeping them in tiny cages and milking their bile. Is it really true that something so primitive and cruel also happens in Korea? It is true that even the government supports it? How is this possible in a modern country?
1. I heard that dog meat was illegal, so why are dog farms still operating, and why is dog meat still being traded and eaten at restaurants without the police doing anything about it?
Right. The processing of dog meat is supposed to be illegal. However, there are no laws in Korea to regulate dog farming for the slaughter and eating of dogs. So a certain contradiction exists and authorities conveniently overlook it. Laws are not enforced.
Also, the cruelties involved in dog farming are in conflict with Korea’s animal protection laws. This is overlooked by the authorities as well. The problem is that the notion of “cruelty” is not well defined and it is argued as somewhat subjective.
Basically, overlooking illegal activities and illogical policies are the government’s way of handling the dog meat issue.
2. What is the problem with eating dog meat? People in other countries eat all kinds of animals, such as pigs or cows. So why does KARA make an issue about dog meat?
First of all, it should be made clear that all animals should be protected from the abuses involved in the meat industry, whether dog, pig, cow, chicken or whale.
Having said that, eating dog meat should be considered differently from the eating of pig or cow meat. This difference is unavoidable because from around 10,000 years ago, dogs have had a special position in human societies, as helpers or companions in mutually beneficial relationships. Today dogs still hold this unchallenged position. In all countries who have decent animal protection laws, the protection of companion animals is stated very clearly. These laws show recognition of the special role of dogs in human society and acknowledges their rights because of that special role.
In this regard, Korea is a failure. It lags behind in understanding the concept–and in animal protection in general–because people have become used to the slaughter and eating of dog meat, even in their local neighborhoods. They have become immune to the abuse because they have grown up with it.
Another reason why the dog meat issue is of special importance to KARA is because it represents a main battlefront for animal related issues in this country. KARA’s goal is to change distorted perceptions and end the eating of dog meat altogether because this will lead to a wider improvement of animal welfare in Korea. The dog meat issue is special but it is far from being the only battle.
3. People should welcome the government’s moves to control the dog meat industry, shouldn’t they? The legalizing of dog meat and the introduction of sanitation laws is a good thing, isn’t it? Why do animal protection groups complain about these initiatives?
People do not know how fatal the government’s moves to legalize dog meat and introduce sanitation laws are to the idea of animal welfare and protection in Korea. These laws will do nothing to stop cruelty.
All farming is becoming more and more industrialized through exactly this kind of legislation. By such legalization, the eating dog could even spread and become more entrench in Korean society, especially since it will be perceived as condoned by the government.
Think about the nightmare of exploitation cows, pigs and chickens suffer now because of legislation that allows industrialized abuses. The result for dogs, a social animal that needs to run and explore, would be equally if not more horrendous. Add to this, in livestock farming, there are many gray areas on handling and there are health risks related to breeding, slaughtering and distribution. Even though laws might be in place, they may not be adequate in the first place and there is no guarantee they will be followed by people in the industry.
In the case of dog meat, no experience, evidence or data exists anywhere in the world on the safety or the consequences of the massive breeding and slaughter of dogs. Look now at the problems caused by hog farms in the US, or think about the spread of bird flu (almost an annual event in Korea) and mad cow disease. All of these problems are because of unnatural industrial farming methods. We don’t need more of this.
4. I’ve read news and seen videos about how the terrible treatment of animals by Koreans. Why is there such a bad attitude towards animals in Korea? Do the majority of Koreans treat animals badly? Are the majority of people in Korea ignorant of animal issues?
There are people in every country who abuse animals. The issue is really about how the laws and regulations of this kind of crime are enforced and how the perpetrators are punished or restrained in each country. That’s what makes a difference.
Korea is very backward in terms of animal protection laws and falls well behind international standards. This has come about because of government policy over the years, as it has been almost fanatically focused on economic results and competition. Since the Korean War, regrettably, rapid economic development has been at the expense of ethical development, and animal abuse is symptomatic of that neglected.
Korea now has a huge economy, so you might well ask, what’s the excuse these days? Well, economic development remains the focus. This is not much different from many other countries, where profit or economic benefit has a priority over animal protection and is considered more important than animal protection. It’s just that those countries and their people have had more time to see laws mature and be accepted.
It is regrettable that not all human beings can intuitively know what they are doing is wrong. The human species apparently has not evolved enough for that to be innate in everyone. As a result, people will commit abuses and these will become the norm if checks are not in place. If a nation’s governing body is incompetent with regard to animal welfare, many of it’s citizens are bound to follow in kind.
Thus, in a way, Korea’s official attitude to animals is connected to and reflected in the way many Koreans as individuals behave towards animals. Individuals, like the government, lag just as much behind in their thinking and understanding of animal protection and welfare issues.
However, the country is changing rapidly. In every corner of society, the understanding of the necessity for animal protection is emerging. More and more people are trying to protect animals through volunteer services or group activities.
So there is hope that Korea will improve with respect to animal welfare on a national and an individual level and be as one with more enlightened countries.
5. I agree with Koreans when they say foreigners should not tell them to ban dog meat eating. It’s part of Korean tradition, so they don’t have the right to criticize the eating of dog meat, do they?
Not everyone says it is an integral part of Korean tradition. In Korean history, there are stories of dog meat eating, but there are also many beautiful stories about dogs as companions, which show how people cared about and loved dogs. Many stories mention faithful dogs and righteous dogs.
It is true that eating dog meat has been a part of Korean history, but the reason it is continually described as “Korean tradition (or culture)“ nowadays is to defend it against Westerns criticism. So, foreigners who side with this view are actually playing into the hands of dog meat supporters and their propaganda. Actually, some foreigners defer to this claim of tradition because it means that don’t have to think about the issue further, or look into it any deeper.
Ultimately, the reason that Koreans should stop eating dog meat is not because of anything foreigners have to say about it. A culture should be enjoyed by all and it should enhance the value of its country or region. Dog eating as a part of culture does none of that. Korea needs to embrace the other side of its ancient cultural tradition, the side that lauds dogs as companions.
It is important for Korea to develop enlightened 21st century attitudes towards animal welfare. Just because something is claimed to be a tradition does not make it right, and nor is there any law that says it should continue. Korea does not have to be the odd one out in the world because of backwardness and ignorance on the part of a minority.
If foreigners want to agree with something smart, then agree with that. And if anyone wants to criticize the practice of dog eating in Korea, they have every right to.
6. Someone told me that at some Korean restaurants you can order a dish where an octopus is fried alive right at your table. Sometimes they cut up the poor octopus while it is alive. I can’t believe people would be that cruel. Is it really true?
Yes, it is true. Octopi are even sold on the street and put in plastic bags so people can take them home and do it. It’s definitely cruel to put a live octopus into the pan and cook it. But there’s a big thing in Asia for “fresh” food, as it’s seen as more natural. Octopi are also cut up while they are alive and their legs are eaten raw, while still squirming.
An octopus cannot scream, so it is unlikely this practice will stop any time soon in Korea. Not many people anywhere, let alone in Korea, know that the octopus is highly intelligent, with a level of intelligence that has been compared to an average household cat. They have excellent sight, smell and touch. Each of their suckers has small and touch sensors that can identify even the smallest of scents or hints of a food source.
Their central nervous system in highly developed with half of it residing in the brain and the other half divided among the eight arms. There is evidence now that they feel pain and stress, as do other cephalopods.
Other countries right now have already or are considering to cover cephalopods under standard animal welfare legislation. As usual, Korea will take a long time to catch up to these more enlightened countries.
But if more Koreans know the facts about octopi, the practice of searing them alive in a pan or cutting them up alive will presumably decline–one would hope. This issue is also a part of KARA campaigning.
7. I read somewhere that cats are actually boiled alive to make some kind of medicine. They even have their legs broken so they can’t escape. I can’t believe this is true because it’s so barbaric and cruel. Is it really true?
Unfortunately, yes. It is a tradition (and some say a very recent “tradition” invented to make money) to perceive that cats are good for rheumatism and other ailments. This probably originated from people observing that cats are agile, and then applying the kind of logic–reminiscent of primitive tribes–to conclude the ingesting a cat will aid agility.
Of course, it is complete nonsense, but people still eat cat meat or drink the liquid tonic, goyangi soju, made from boiling a cat. The cats are boiled in pressure cookers. (Dog tonic or gae soju is made in a similar way, as is black goat tonic or heuk yomsoh). Cat killings are being done out of public view, so it’s very difficult to investigate the problem. This terrible and cruel abuse cannot be rooted out unless the eating of cat meat and the drinking of the cat tonic are treated as illegal.
Apart from these abuses, cats and not well liked in Korea in general. A lot of superstitions surround them and abuse against them is almost automatic. Few stray cats will approach a human. They know all too well they could be attacked. Perhaps it’s a good thing they live in fear of humans, since they might survive longer that way.
KARA members all too commonly find themselves rescuing cats in distress.
8. I saw some horrific news about animals, such as a baby pig, being tortured and cut to pieces at a protest rally. How can people get away with such atrocities in a civilized country? It brings shame on Korea so why does the government allow it to happen?
Protesters have indeed expressed their anger by tearing apart a baby pig. If that wasn’t bad enough, government officials were in fact present at the incident in question and did nothing. However, this is typical. Politicians and public officials don’t appear to have any interest in policing such horrible abuse. When animal protection groups requested that the perpetrators of the pig slaughter be punished, they received no response from the government.
Citizens that were appalled and disgusted by the incident ended up putting an ad in the newspaper condemning it. The ad was supported by many notable people. These citizens are to be commended. Government authorities, on the other hand, deserve nothing but contempt.
Other animal abuse incidents of this nature have even happened in broad daylight in the center of Seoul, but there were no investigations by police or any kind of prosecution. It is really hard to understand why the government is not interested in preventing the embarrassment and shame of these barbaric actions. The government response to such issues is generally to just keep its “head in the sand.”
Perhaps from this you can understand what groups like KARA are up against in Korea and why it is so important we keep up the pressure on government representatives.
9. Why is the Korean government so weak when it comes to the protection of animals? It seems like the government and the police just want to ignore anything to do with animals. Do the authorities really ignore animal welfare in Korea?
Yes, that is pretty much the case. The Korean government has no major incentive to protect and care about animals and nor does it have any expertise on animal protection. Basically, there is no will on the government’s part to be proactive in protecting animals.
A major problem that is proving very difficult to overcome is the incompetence of public officials that are assigned to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. It cannot be overstated how useless some of these individuals are.
They outwardly proclaim they are supporting and doing something about animal welfare, but actually they are only paying lip service. For one thing, it is obvious they have no intention of prohibiting the eating of dog meat. These are the same kinds of officials who allow birds to be buried alive during avian flu culling operations.
In short, a lack of will and incompetence would characterize the Korean government’s approach to animal welfare. Yet while it tries to ignore animal welfare and dupe the public, groups like KARA won’t let it.
10. Since Korea is a small country, it just has small family farms, doesn’t it? The kind of horrors seen in factory farming in Western countries wouldn’t happen in Korea, would they?
The scale is small compared to Western countries, but factory farming is now widely used and is on the rise in Korea because of an increase in meat consumption and because of the high profits that can be made.
This is especially true of chicken farming, which is operated by giant chicken meat processing companies. They handle everything from hatchery to chicken meat distribution, and their facilities are so massive they are able to slaughter and process 300,000 chickens per day. Would abuses occur? There is no doubt.
The pig farming situation is very similar to this. Korea has its own gigantic pig farming operations, supported by the country’s increasing pork consumption. There is no question that it is all accompanied by animal abuses, but it is perhaps even less likely to be registered as such in the minds of workers or managers than it is in the West. Abuses are not reported and do not reach the public.
Even on small farms abuses occur. If it is not profitable to raise pigs, for example, when feed costs become too high, the practice of some farmers is to starve their pigs or else stab them to death. Sometimes, as has happened in the West, small farms cannot compete with the larger operations, and this can lead to unscrupulous farmers resorting to serious animal abuses to make a profit.
No one should have any romantic delusions about life down on the farm in Korea.
11. I knew China was guilty of torturing black bears by keeping them in tiny cages and milking their bile. Is it really true that something so primitive and cruel also happens in Korea? It is true that even the government supports it? How is this possible in a modern country?
Some Korean people still consider bear’s gall to be beneficial to health and they will pay an incredible amount of money for it. This problem is not helped by certain oriental doctors recommending bear’s gall as highly effective medicine. Currently in Korea there are over a thousand bears bred in miserable conditions purely for the extraction of gall. The bears are either butchered for the gall or it is extracted while they are imprisoned.
Not only this, bear meat restaurants still exist, where it is reported that young bears are slaughtered on the spot, often receiving blows to the head with a hammer, and turned into a meal for wealthy patrons.
Korea’s Ministry of Environment allows the bear farming to continue. It has opposed a request by groups joined in the Nock-Saek union (Green Union) “to buy all bears and prohibit the sale of bear’s gall.” The government has used the excuse that it lacks the budget for such a request, and it has also said it will not deny bear farmers their source of income, which is more to the point.
There is an ancient legend that Koreans are descendant from Ung-Nyeo (a female bear) who was transformed into a human. It is thus highly irreverent and shameful that Koreans abuse a creature that is so important to their country’s cultural history.
Regrettably, since Korea’s own government is guilty of supporting the vile bear farming industry, it is going to be very difficult to eradicate the cruelty to such lovely animals.
Source: Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) http://animalrightskorea.org/campaigns-info/get-the-faqs.html
Photo: Yellow dog.