Our interview with a Belgian news magazine
Campaigns against South Korea’s dog meat trade by Koreandogs.org and the New York-based animal rights group, The Animals’ Battalion, are covered in Knack.be, a Belgian news magazine. Click HERE for the news in Dutch. Thank you, Ms. Essar Ahmad for the article!
Below is a list of the interview questions and our responses.
What is the organisation Korean Dogs and does your organisation have a base?
In 2011, I began campaigning to end the dog and cat meat trade in South Korea, using mostly social media such as Facebook and online petition sites. I campaign from San Jose, California, but was born and raised in Korea so this gives me a unique perspective. Initially, I had no background in campaigning or animal rights (I was an accountant by profession), and I just tried to do everything I could to raise awareness about the cruelties of Korea’s dog and cat meat industries. I created the Koreandogs.org website and recruited volunteers from all over the world to help translate my home page into many languages. It’s been 8 years and I continue to run over a thousand online petitions and campaigns. Our volunteers and supporters from all over the world follow our campaigns and take various actions. We are independent and do not affiliate with or exist as a registered charity or formal organization. We do not take donations.
What is the situation of the dogs (and cats) in Korea?
At present, dog-meat consumption in South Korea is not legal (https://koreandogs.org/kara-publishes-legal-information-booklet-ending-dog-meat-consumption/). Yet the government and general public basically ignore the illegality and allow it to continue. A search using Naver (a popular online search engine in South Korea) reveals that there are over 3,900 dog meat restaurants in Korea (https://map.naver.com/index.nhn?query=67O07Iug7YOV&enc=b64&tab=1). There are also thousands of so-called “Health Food Shops” that commonly sell dog and/or cat elixirs (“Gaesoju”, “Goyangi Soju” in Korean), made using dog or cat. If you add all of these places together, as well the number of businesses that sell other dog and cat meat products, it shows that the industry is very large and widespread across Korea.
How is the situation evolving?
There is increasing pressure on Korea from inside and outside of the country to end the dog meat trade. However, because it is such a lucrative billion-dollar industry and provides jobs, the Korean government is unwilling to properly enforce animal welfare laws and disrupt the industry. Currently, there are three proposed amendments in the Korean National Assembly that if passed would end the dog meat trade in Korea. In May 2018, Assembly member Lee Sang-Don proposed an amendment to the Livestock Industry Act that would exclude dogs from livestock classification. In June 2018, Assembly member Pyo Chang-Won proposed an amendment to the Animal Protection Act that would prohibit the slaughter of dogs. In September 2017, Assembly member Han Jeong-Ae proposed an amendment to the Waste Control Act that would prohibit the feeding food waste to the animals (https://koreandogs.org/kara-ministry-environment-agriculture/). However, nothing has come of these and progress has stalled. Given that the South Korean government is indifferent to the suffering of millions of dogs and cats, these animals are doomed to lives of misery and fear before being brutally slaughtered. Below are some examples:
• Ulsan Dog Meat Market illegal dog slaughter… Knife stuck in throat, gasping in agony: https://koreandogs.org/ulsan-dog-slaughter/
• Investigation and Rescue in Cheonan: https://careanimalrights.org/2019/07/investigation-and-rescue-in-cheonan/
How big is the chance that there will be a prohibition on eating dog meat?
South Korea is the only developed nation in the world that still practices dog and cat eating. It is also the only developed country in the world that raises dogs for meat on large scale factory farms. It is very difficult to persuade the Korean government to completely ban the dog meat industry because few Korean citizens support such a ban or take action to combat the industry. Nonetheless, it is possible to pressure the Korean government through international condemnation and economic boycotts, and through this we hope to force the government into taking steps to prohibit the dog meat trade. Also, as time goes on, we hope that Korean public sentiment will change and add further pressure against the government and those within the dog meat industry. Of course, despite continued pressure from around the world, the prohibition of dog meat trade in Korea could still take many years.
How many people in South Korea are against or with the tradition? And do you know if there are surveys about?
There are several surveys about the dog meat consumption issue in Korea. For example, according to the Asian Economy News in Korea on July 10, 2019 (https://view.asiae.co.kr/article/2019070917410750121), there was a survey conducted by Korea Research last year involving 1,000 Koreans. In the survey, 46% of respondents said they were against dog meat consumption and only 18.5% supported it. The remaining 35.5% said they were neither for or against it. On June 2, 2019, News 1 reported that during President Moon Jae-In’s first year of office, the greatest number of petitions (1027) to the online Presidential petition site (https://www1.president.go.kr/petitions/) were to request “the ban on dog and cat meat consumption” (http://news1.kr/articles/?3636284). The problem, however, is that while the majority of Koreans are opposed to eating dogs and cats, very few are willing to take concrete actions to stop this cruel trade because of other priorities, ignorance, or indifference regarding the suffering of these animals.
Have there already been compromises with the Korean government (that you know of) or with which compromises can you/the organisation live with?
In my opinion, there have been no actions or compromises from the Korean government of any significance. So far, the government has done nothing to show that it is serious about ending the dog and cat meat trade. The only positive news that I have heard is this: https://koreandogs.org/breaking-news-south-korean-government-to-set-5-year-plan-on-animal-welfare/
Ultimately, there can be no compromise with the Korean government that we can live with. We can only settle for a complete ban of dog and cat meat consumption in Korea to end the suffering. We will continue to campaign and put pressure on the Korean government until we achieve this goal.
How do the activists want to convince the breeders to give up the tradition?
We cannot convince all dog meat farmers one by one to give up their businesses. There are 1000s of them. The only way to ensure a comprehensive shutdown of the dog meat trade across the country is for the Korean government to ban it and properly enforce the law. So that’s what our campaigns focus on, raising awareness around the world about the terrible plight of the millions of dogs in Korea’s dog meat trade to try to force the Korean government to take steps toward a total ban.
Are there plans to compensate the job losses if the practice will be illegalised?
The Gupo Dog Meat Market in Busan recently closed down, with the Busan and Buk-gu District government generously compensating the dog butchers who had agreed to the shutdown (https://koreandogs.org/busan-gupo-dog-meat-market-close-down/). We agree that it is up to the Korean government to compensate businesses in the dog meat industry. However, the Korean government has shown no willingness to resolve this issue on a large scale, and there are no plans to budget for more widespread compensation to close down all farms and markets.
Why is it a problem to eat a dog (and cat)? Some people eat horses or cows (which is forbidden for hindus) Some people even eat frogs or snails.
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 acknowledge 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. Dog meat issue is of special importance because it represents a main battlefront for animal related issues in Korea.
If the living conditions of the animals become better in Korea. Is it still a problem if they are being eaten?
Yes, it’s a problem because as stated in the response to your previous question, dogs have traditionally been helper and companion animals and they should not be eaten. In addition, the idea of better living conditions is practically impossible, just as it is for other animals on factory farms around the world. The simple equation is that more animal welfare means more cost, which dog farmers are never willing to pay. Dog farmers in Korea do everything they can to cut costs, including feeding their dogs putrid garbage from restaurants and never providing veterinary care for injuries. Dog farmers are only interested in doing the minimum to keep dogs alive until slaughter. Their goal is money, not animal welfare, and this won’t change. As a result, farmed dogs live a life of misery and deprivation from beginning to end. Also, the Korean government would never spend money and human resources on monitoring humane conditions on dog farms. The only solution is a total ban.