UK Parliamentary Debate on South Korea’s Dog Meat Trade – September 12, 2016
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Dog Meat (South Korea)
12 September 2016
• Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 120702 relating to South Korea and the dog meat trade.
May I begin, Mr Nuttall, by thanking you for chairing this important debate, which I am introducing on behalf of the Petitions Committee? It has attracted a huge amount of support. More than 100,000 people have signed the petition, but I know that the interest goes much wider than those who have signed it. Already articles in papers such as the Daily Mirror have attracted a huge amount of interest and public reaction, so I know there is great concern about the topic.
I must admit that before I agreed to introduce the debate I had relatively little knowledge of the dog meat trade. We are all naturally repulsed by the idea, but I have been shocked and deeply concerned by some of the evidence that has been presented to me, and I thank the organisations that provided it, including the Humane Society International, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and World Protection for Dogs and Cats in the Meat Trade, as well as other charitable organisations and groups that have come into contact with me.
Before I talk about some of the specific concerns about the trade, I will make a few general points. I lived in east Asia for some time and am acutely aware that we need to be sensitive to cultural differences. The fact that South Korea has been picked for inclusion in the motion is probably to do with the fact that the winter Olympics are coming to the country in 2018. We should be mindful that the practice in question is not confined to South Korea. It is very prevalent in China, Vietnam, Thailand and other countries.
• Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)
Does my hon. Friend agree that one problem in trying to persuade people not to eat dog meat is the long-held view of many that it contains mythical health qualities, and that eating dog meat is somehow better for them? Does he agree, also, that it is sometimes difficult to persuade people that their long-held beliefs are no more than a load of old codswallop?
• Oliver Dowden
It is absolutely right to highlight that long-held view about the properties of dog meat. That point is also relevant to some of the barbaric methods of slaughter.
• Sir Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab)
Everyone recognises that the trade is a cruel one, but surely the main problem—and the reason for highlighting South Korea—is that it is not simply a question of the tradition of eating dog meat; it is the scale. More than 5 million animals are killed every year, and nearly 3 million of those are farmed on puppy farms for that explicit purpose. It is not surprising that people highlight the case of South Korea.
• Oliver Dowden
I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about the scale of what happens in South Korea; I was merely making the point that the practice in question is also prevalent in other countries. For example, there are fairs for dog meat consumption in China. Indeed, it is important to contextualise the points that have been made by the hon. Gentleman and by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), in relation to the countries in question.
It is certainly a more traditional belief that people should eat dog meat; even in countries where that is very prevalent, such as South Korea, it is very much a minority belief. Most younger people do not eat dog meat. Equally, there are strong campaign groups in the countries where it happens, which oppose it. The Governments of those countries have taken steps against it to varying degrees, although of course much more should be done.
I am also very much aware that we should not try to impose our own cultural standards unquestioningly. There are intense forms of industrial meat production in, for example, the pig industry, and if we are aware of that we should look to our own consciences; certainly some meat that we consume from other European countries is produced in pretty barbaric circumstances. I just wanted to give that overall context.
• Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
The Blue Cross is based in my constituency, and it stands up for our four-legged friends. I thoroughly enjoyed its rather wet and soggy inaugural waggy dog show on Saturday. Of course, cultural issues are important. This country has a proud record of caring for our waggy-tailed friends but we must try to speak to Governments where they are mistreated. There is a fine balance but we need to stand up on the issue.
• Oliver Dowden
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. In relation to general animal welfare, this country can be very proud. We have led the European Union and the world in improving standards not only for domestic animals but for farm animals.
• David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP)
The hon. Gentleman will know about the UK horse meat trade scandal some time ago. The world is getting to be a smaller place, and what we do not want to happen is that somehow the meat gets smuggled into the UK and into the food chain, causing difficulties for commercial businesses.
• Oliver Dowden
The hon. Gentleman is right on that point. There are two specific concerns: there are gaps in the supply chain that extend to the United Kingdom. That applies to meat coming into the UK, but it has also been suggested that greyhounds from Ireland may be raced in east Asia and enter the food chain in that way. There is also the general health concern about the consumption of dog meat. That brings me on to the three specific concerns that we need to consider in the debate.
The first concern is the welfare of the dogs as they are reared. The trade is completely unregulated. The farms—if one can call them that—are pretty horrific places. Dogs are usually kept in very small cages without any form of environmental enrichment, in many cases on solid floors where they cannot even stand. The evidence gathered by charities regularly includes a huge range of injuries, including untreated eye infections, skin diseases, prolapsed bowels and painfully swollen feet. Of course, when animals have absolutely no form of stimulation there is the problem of self-mutilation, whether that is cage pacing or head tilting, or other features of poorly looked after animals.
Allied to that is the method of slaughter, once they have been reared. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire mentioned, there is a terribly misheld belief—this does not apply in all cases, but there is a lot of evidence for it—that somehow, if the animal has a lot of adrenalin pumping through it at the time of slaughter, that will add to the power of the meat or tenderise it before slaughter. That has in some cases encouraged terribly barbaric methods of slaughter. Examples include hanging, beating or in some cases even boiling the poor animals alive, a1in the ridiculous belief that somehow that improves the quality. Surely anyone can agree that that is completely unacceptable.
• Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting the debate. In an article last week—I think it was in the Daily Mirror—it was reported that, particularly in China, animals were being treated very badly and shoved in big pots to be boiled alive. That is utterly cruel, and surely the Government should be making representations on that.
• Oliver Dowden
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, which is exactly why I am raising that in the debate. I hope the Minister will take note of that point and relay the strength of feeling in the United Kingdom, including from readers of the Daily Mirror, about those appalling practices.
• Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech. He is making an extremely powerful case and is standing up for the petitioners extremely well. Is there any international veterinary evidence on the horrific methods of slaughter that he is beginning to outline, including from vets in those countries who are standing up and speaking out against the myths being perpetuated—that if animals die a cruel death, the meat is somehow tastier or better for them?
• Oliver Dowden
My hon. Friend raises an important point that goes back to what I was saying earlier. I do not think those methods of slaughter are being in any way actively encouraged by the South Korean Government or other Governments. Indeed, they are contrary to all the evidence, but the fact is that this is being conducted on the basis not of evidence, but of prejudices and long-standing traditions, which are difficult to counter with an analytical approach.
My second big concern around this trade is that it does not just extend to animals that are purposely bred for it. Not only are stray animals being brought into the supply chain, but there is considerable evidence that pet dogs and cats brought up for domestic purposes are being stolen and finding themselves in the supply chain. We can all only imagine what it would be like if our own domestic animals found themselves in that state.
Equally, there are suggestions—although I must say the evidence on this is still being gathered—in relation to the greyhound racing industry, for example. It is alleged that when greyhounds are past their time in the United Kingdom, or particularly in Ireland, they go out to compete in east Asia, fail a couple of races and are then pushed off into the dog meat supply chain. Again, that needs to be urgently investigated, both by our Government and by those in the countries where it is alleged to have happened. South Korea is taking some steps on that but it remains a legal grey area. Without going into detail about the legislative proposals in this area, I should say that there is more that can be done to bring greater clarity that such practice is not acceptable.
My third concern is in relation to human health. We have already discussed the danger of dog meat entering the general supply chain, which is something the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should be very much aware of. Because it is an unregulated industry, there are no official guidelines, let alone oversight, to ensure that those meat products do not harm the health of consumers. The lack of evidence is worrying, particularly when the conditions on many dog farms are exceedingly unsanitary. There is a real danger of high levels of antimicrobial resistance because of excessive use of antibiotics and drugs on the dogs, often to counter the way in which they are kept in densely-filled areas with high levels of stress and high mortality rates. Equally, because the manner of slaughter is unregulated, there is a danger that disease enters the food chain from that.
What I am seeking from the Minister in his response is, first, an assurance that the Government take the issue seriously. It is easy for us to dismiss it as a problem in another country but, as members of the international community, we should be highlighting the concern and be encouraging the Government to press the case with the South Korean Government. I know we have very good bilateral relations with the South Korean Government—indeed, we have good bilateral relations with other countries, such as the Philippines. In a spirit of constructive engagement with friends, allies and partners, we can reasonably raise our concerns and ask those countries to address them. That can be done both in the United Kingdom, through our relationship with the ambassadors of South Korea and other countries, and through the various international organisations of which we are a member, including the European Union.
• Mr Cunningham
I ask the hon. Gentleman to include China in that list, because it was highlighted in the Daily Mirror.
• Oliver Dowden
Forgive me; I was not seeking to make a particular political point about China or, indeed, Thailand, Vietnam or any of the other countries I have mentioned.
Furthermore, through our strong relations with other countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, I think the United Kingdom could have a role in highlighting this matter. As I said, this is a question not of accusing other countries, but of highlighting those concerns. I also think we can play a role domestically in the United Kingdom. We have a tremendous body of expertise and opinion in the form of the chief veterinary officer and his offices.
The United Kingdom could act as a lead advocate for building a global strategy. For example, we can use our contacts in the World Health Organisation and other organisations to fully research, quantify and publicise the concerns around the dog meat industry, in relation to antimicrobial resistance, for example, and to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire about dispelling some of the myths around some of the supposed virtues of the meat.
• Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is incredibly important during the forthcoming period of negotiations around Brexit that the UK takes a firm position on maintaining the highest possible animal welfare standards when it comes to how we implement laws on animal welfare—not just for companion animals, but for livestock more generally? Otherwise, the messages we are trying to send internationally will be totally undermined.
• Oliver Dowden
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. As she says, the United Kingdom is a leader in animal welfare standards, not just for domestic animals but also for farm animals. I take a slightly less negative view of the opportunities of Brexit. Of course there is a danger that we go for the lowest common denominator in trade deals but, equally, there are opportunities. For example, in the United Kingdom at the moment we cannot discriminate against the very poor welfare standards we see in some European countries—all we have managed to do is increase the base level a little. In fact, we will now have the opportunity to impose higher welfare standards on all meat imported into this country. I hope very much that the Government will seize that opportunity as part of those Brexit negotiations.
• Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind)
I have received a large number of emails from constituents on this. People in Northern Ireland feel very passionately and care very deeply about their dogs and other pets, and the standards of animal welfare in Northern Ireland are generally very high. Given that this is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, and in light of the fact that Invest Northern Ireland has sent trade delegations to South Korea since 2010, will the hon. Gentleman encourage the Minister to liaise very closely with the devolved Administrations, including the Northern Ireland Executive, so that this is a joint effort?
• Oliver Dowden
The hon. Lady makes an important point. First, she is absolutely right about the scale of the interest in this matter. I have received a large amount of correspondence on it and it is clear that people are very worried. Secondly, she is absolutely right to say that, as part of drawing on different relations that the Westminster Government have, we should be building on relationships with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to further advance this case.
I am conscious that many Members would like to speak in the debate, so I conclude by urging the Minister to take note of the scale of public opinion and to use the many and considerable offices the United Kingdomhas to continue to press this case, in a spirit of friendship and co-operation. Even in the countries involved, most people know that this trade is not acceptable and share our abhorrence for it.
• Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I thank the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) for introducing this debate. I am also pleased to see the Foreign Office Minister and the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), in their places.
I was the shadow Foreign Office Minister covering this part of the world for four years, until about a year ago. I also had the human rights brief. The ongoing frustration is that it is always so difficult to get people to listen to arguments about human rights issues in our relationships with other countries, let alone get them to consider the animal welfare issues. I was rather disappointed when I asked a question last Thursday of the new Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), about the Government’s action plan on business and human rights that was launched with much fanfare three years ago. I asked where the action plan fits into the new Department for International Trade—when going out to other countries to negotiate trade agreements, will we be aware of the attempt by the former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to meld the desire to trade with companies and to talk about human rights? The answer I got was pretty much, “That’s a completely separate issue. It’s something for the Foreign Office and nothing to do with us.”
If we cannot even persuade that Department that human rights should be on the agenda when we are negotiating trade agreements, we will have difficulty making the argument that animal welfare should be on there too. I hope that the Foreign Office Minister takes that back to his colleagues and starts talking to the new Ministers in the Department for International Trade about the importance of this issue and the strength of feeling about it.
I had the pleasure of visiting South Korea a few years ago with the UK-Korea Forum for the Future. Every two years, some UK parliamentarians go out to South Korea, and every other year, people from the South Korean Parliament come over here. South Korea is not only a major trading ally of the UK; it is also our friend, but that should not stop us at times being a critical friend. It is interesting to note in the Library briefing that the consumption of dog meat in South Korea did not become commonplace until the Korean war in the 1950s. It is easy to forget what an incredibly poor country South Korea was back then, lagging well behind its neighbour to the north. Of course, now the situation has been reversed, and we hear reports that Kim Jong-un’s people are on the verge of starvation. Obviously, the human rights situation is dreadful there too.
One of the fascinating things about my visit to South Korea was seeing how the country had transformed itself from abject post-war poverty into an economic export-led powerhouse, albeit not always under the most democratic leadership. Seoul now presents as a very modern, high-tech city, with gleaming skyscrapers and excellent transport, but as we have heard, some of the old ways remain, including the dog meat trade. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Sir Alan Meale) mentioned, 5 million dogs are involved in the trade every year. I have seen figures that show that more than 2 million dogs are factory farmed in South Korea for human consumption. They are kept in terrible conditions in tiny cages, exposed to extreme heat and cold, before being cruelly killed, often via electrocution.
• Sir Alan Meale
In terms of the two figures I referred to, one is the overall figure for the whole country, but my hon. Friend is right; 2.5 to 3 million puppies are factory farmed for the trade.
• Kerry McCarthy
I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification.
The fact that the petition so easily reached 100,000 signatures, and the number of emails Members have received from constituents, remind us that Britain is a nation of dog lovers, as we saw in the public response to other campaigns, such as Pup Aid’s campaign against puppy farms. That serves as a reminder that we ourselves are not above criticism and that much can be done to improve animal welfare in this country.
In the past, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), has told me that the UK has the best record on animal welfare of any country in the world. After our last exchange, she sent me some evidence in support of that. Whether we are the best is a moot point, but we are clearly better than most. However, we still regularly see terrible footage of conditions in some slaughterhouses and factory farms here, with millions of birds shot in the name of sport and some truly appalling cases of ill treatment of pets. We discussed the cruelty of snares in the main Chamber just before the summer recess.
I am pleased to have been asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) to sponsor her ten-minute rule Bill calling for tougher sentences for animal cruelty, following the dreadful case of the Frankish brothers in her constituency, who filmed themselves torturing their bulldog by throwing her down the stairs, stamping on her head, swinging her around and headbutting her. We certainly should not be too complacent or congratulate ourselves too much about conditions here in the UK. Today is about making the case against the dog meat trade in South Korea, which is the only country to intensively farm dogs for food. As petitioners have told us, there is a good chance of making progress with the South Korean Government on this issue, not least because the eyes of the world will be on South Korea in the run-up to the winter Olympics.
It was interesting to read in the Library briefing the article by Jill Robinson, the founder and CEO of Animals Asia, which has long campaigned on these issues and says that because the laws in South Korea are stronger than in countries such as China, there is less criminality in the dog meat trade, with fewer dogs mysteriously disappearing from the streets. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) for the speech he made in last year’s Backbench Business debate on the wider dog meat trade in countries such as China, in which he outlined in distressing detail the immense cruelty and suffering involved in the theft, transportation, caging and slaughter of millions of dogs each year.
The Yulin dog meat festival is a particularly hideous example of that. Animals Asia has said there is less criminality in South Korea, but Jill Robinson argues that that in fact means there is more cruelty, because there is no way to make dog farming profitable without cutting every corner imaginable. She says that Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines have made dog meat eating illegal, largely because there is no humane way to breed dogs for meat.
In last year’s debate, my former colleague in the shadow DEFRA team, my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), said:
“Although the Korea Food and Drug Administration recognises all edible products as food, other than drugs, Seoul has passed a regulation classifying dog meat as a ‘repugnant food’. However, as in other parts of the world, such regulatory oversight has not been effective in curbing the demand for dog meat.”—[Official Report, 5 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 1223.]
There is a law in place in South Korea—the Animal Protection Amendment Act 2007—which prohibits some of the cruel methods used to slaughter dogs, but it is widely ignored, as we have heard. According to charities involved in campaigning on this issue, many South Koreans believe that the more a dog suffers before it dies, the better the meat will taste, as adrenaline in the system makes the meat taste better. Dogs are therefore often subjected to cruelty before being slaughtered. There is an issue of enforcing the current law as well as making the case for stronger laws and, indeed, trying to outlaw the dog trade altogether.
It is encouraging to hear that cultural attitudes in South Korea are changing and that many more people are speaking out. There is always a danger of being seen to preach to other countries where the cultural norms do not coincide with the practices in this country, and it is best if change can be encouraged to come from within. Some might argue that we are guilty of sentimentality, double standards or hypocrisy in condemning the dog meat trade when so many other animals are killed for food every day around the world, with many kept and killed in equally cruel conditions.
Some of us are of the school of thought that says, “Why eat a cow or a pig if you wouldn’t eat a dog or a cat?” We saw that in the horse meat scandal, when consumers here were appalled to learn that they might be eating horse when they thought they were eating beef or lamb. Of course consumers have the right to know what they are eating and to choose whether that is an animal they wish to eat. I make the point simply that we are discussing the dog meat trade, but there are many other debates to be had about slaughter conditions, the transportation of animals and other practices around the world that we do not focus on quite so much.
In last year’s debate, there was much discussion about the extent to which we should seek to impose our cultural norms on other countries. As the Government said in their written response to the petition, selling and eating dog meat is a legal and culturally normal practice in South Korea, as it is in a number of other countries. They went on to say:
“In the absence of international norms, laws or agreements governing the trade and consumption of cat and dog meat, the United Kingdom has no legal grounds to intervene or take trade measures against those countries”.
I accept that there are no legal grounds for intervening in the actual practice of eating cats and dogs, but I hope that the hon. Member for Hertsmere and I, as well as the many Members who will follow us, will make the case today that there are certainly moral and ethical grounds for intervening against the immense cruelty involved in the trade. I hope that the UK Government do not hide behind the reasoning they originally gave in response to the petition as an excuse for inaction. We should be doing all we can to continue to raise this issue during our bilateral discussions and to support activists in South Korea who seek to outlaw this terrible trade.
• Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP)
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. I would like to thank the members of the public who created the petition and the 102,131 who signed it. They are responsible for securing this important debate and I thank the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) for leading it.
Like many hon. Members, I received many emails from constituents asking me to attend this debate. Animal welfare is something both they and I care deeply about. I have contributed to several debates in this place on the treatment and wellbeing of dogs, but none was quite so difficult to prepare for as this one. Despite a conscious effort to look at the trade impartially and to be aware of any cultural bias I might have, it was difficult to read about, look at photographs of and watch videos about the subject. It is clear that dogs are being treated appallingly and most if not all of us condemn that very strongly. I and other Scottish National party Members encourage a cautious and culturally sensitive approach to effect change in South Korea—an approach that supports animal rights groups in that country that are already working to bring an end to the dog meat trade.
The Scottish Government take animal welfare issues incredibly seriously and continue to lead the way in both protection and promotion of animal rights. Just last week, the British Veterinary Association commended the Scottish Government on including the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill in its programme. My desire is that others will follow this example and take similar action in other parts of the UK and Northern Ireland.
I hope the UK Government are truly committed to the protection of animal rights, but recent attempts to reintroduce foxhunting have cast doubt on that. Fortunately, due to the SNP’s support for the continuation of the ban, the UK Government decided to drop the planned vote on the issue. The SNP will continue to fight effectively in both Scotland and here in Westminster for animal rights.
I welcome the UK Government’s response to the petition, I hope their apparent sincerity is backed by continued action. I welcome the fact that the British embassy in Seoul has raised the issue of cruelty towards animals on many occasions with the South Korean authorities and I hope it continues to do so at every appropriate opportunity.
In the run-up to the winter Olympics in 2018, it is vital that this important issue is not allowed to be ignored and that the trade is not simply hidden from sight. In an attempt to avoid criticism, the South Korean Government hid all dog meat restaurants from the sight of international media during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The dog meat industry in the Republic of Korea is still thriving today, almost 30 years later. It is important that, three decades on, the authorities are not allowed simply to adopt a policy of out of sight, out of mind. Reports that dogs are mistreated and abused in the dog meat trade are much too distressing to be ignored or concealed.
We must exercise caution in our approach to the cultural practices of other countries, but we have a duty to voiceless animals to try to bring about change. Charities have highlighted some of the terrible conditions in which 2 million dogs that are slaughtered for their meat every year are kept. Animal welfare groups have attested that some traditional beliefs encourage more torturous conditions for dogs, such as the thinking that high adrenaline levels will produce tender meat.
Dogs are often confined in small wire cages until their slaughter, usually by electrocution. It is claimed that they are often transported improperly, in cramped conditions and without access to water. This cannot and must not be ignored. In addition to raising the issue with Korean authorities, will the UK Government promote effective implementation of existing laws in South Korea and encourage public awareness of the horrific conditions in which dogs are often kept for the meat trade?
It is promising that the dog meat trade seems to be decreasing in popularity, which the UK Government acknowledged in their response to the petition. There is no doubt that this seems to be a generational issue and that attitudes are changing. Younger South Koreans seem to be moving away from dog meat, which is encouraging, but that is not reason enough to ignore the ongoing problem and wait for it to disappear. If this is a generational shift and not much else is done, Members could be debating the same issue in this place in another 30 years. I do not want to be one of the people doing that.
• Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) on introducing it and on setting the scene so well. I will focus on South Korea and what I believe is its responsibility, maybe not to respond directly to this debate, but to take on board the views of those of us in the Chamber.
This issue has flooded my inbox, as it has those of other hon. Members, so it was important that I came along to make a contribution to this afternoon’s debate and to represent all those who took the time to email me, write to me or phone me about this emotive issue.
As the hon. Member for Hertsmere said, South Korea will host the winter Olympics in 2018, so we must ensure that this debate is heard in South Korea. It is not a matter of hiding what they do; it is a matter of stopping what they do. That is what we are aiming to achieve. We have been thrilled by the results of team GB, particularly those of the Paralympics team and our own young Bethany Firth, who took a gold in swimming, having trained at the local swimming pool not five minutes from my office. The buzz surrounding the build-up to the Olympics and the events are great for national pride and we take pleasure in seeing our teams do well on a world stage. This is what the Olympics are all about, and to have them tainted by concern about the host nation can never be good. We must focus on the 2018 winter Olympics and where they will be held. That nation must also respond.
I remember the shock in my history classes of seeing Nazi Germany hosting the 1936 Olympics, using it as a forum for its propaganda and political games. I was horrified and hoped the world had learned had a lesson. Politics and sport must not mix, and although we have never repeated the mistakes of that Olympics, I have been worried on a few occasions.
I raised concern in this House about the Beijing Olympics and the human rights concerns that many of us in the House have that perhaps there was a forum for dialogue. I do the same this afternoon, but on a different issue. I am not asking for us to wield an influence that we do not have, because we cannot make South Korea stop what it is doing, but we can use this debate as an opportunity to highlight issues and perhaps play a small part in bringing about change. One of those issues and the reason we are here is the petition of 102,000 signatures, many from Northern Ireland. Some were from my constituents who expressed horror that an estimated 2 million to 3 million dogs suffer indescribably in South Korea, the only country that officially farms dogs for their meat each and every year.
Although the dog meat trade exists across Asia, South Korea is the only country in which that trade is sustained via intensive dog-breeding farms, both large and small, as opposed to stolen or otherwise captured dogs in China, Vietnam, Laos and elsewhere. Many of us, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson), have spoken clearly on the two issues. I commend them on that, because they have been at the forefront back home of ensuring that the issues are highlighted.
It is estimated that 2.5 million to 3 million dogs were slaughtered for human consumption in South Korea in 2014, having been bred and raised on more than 17,000 farms there, ranging in size from backyard operations with 20 or so dogs to large industrialised farms with thousands of dogs throughout the peninsula. I have been told by the Humane Society International that dog meat is sold in markets and restaurants as boshintang, a peppery soup that is believed by some to be invigorating—something to which the hon. Member for Hertsmere referred—or as a tonic in traditional health shops. There seems to be a misconception that dog meat can do those things. No, it cannot, and those who believe it can are certainly not thinking logically.
The industry is largely seasonal, with dog meat particularly popular during the summer months over the Boknal days of July and August, when 70% to 80% of the dog meat is consumed, even by those who never eat it at any other time of year. There is a tradition in South Korea of dog meat consumption at certain times of the year. Many farmers will have their dogs slaughtered just before Boknal, when they will fetch the highest prices, meaning that the collective suffering of as many as 3 million dogs every year is focused mainly, but not exclusively, on supplying demand for a soup consumed in just one month of the year.
Although the vast majority of Koreans do not routinely eat dog meat and surveys show that it is least likely to be eaten by younger Koreans, the “right” of others to eat it is still defended by a majority. Despite the growing opposition, the value of the dog meat industry was estimated at £1.02 billion in 2015 and it provides employment for some 32,000 farm and restaurant workers. HSI’s strategic approach in South Korea takes on board that context and it actively engages in partnerships with dog farmers to demonstrate that a negotiated, state-sponsored phase-out of the industry is both feasible and desirable for both dogs and farmers. There are some people in South Korea with ability and in positions of power who are willing to see change. There is a feeling that more politicians are open to discussing the cruelty-to-animals aspect. During the past year, a growing number of South Korean politicians have been reflecting increasing public concern within their own country and outside it as well.
• The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alok Sharma)
• Jim Shannon
I see the Minister nodding. What I have described will probably become apparent in his response as well. A growing number of South Korean politicians are also committing to efforts to provide better protection for animals, including dogs, so some of the work that this Government and others in the western world are doing to address this issue is starting to have an effect, and perhaps we can look forward to the stopping of the eating of dogs as food.
Let me give an example. Membership of the South Korean National Assembly animal welfare forum, which I suppose is like an all-party parliamentary group here and which was formed voluntarily by Assembly Members, has risen from 31 members in May 2016 to 51 in September. That has happened in just that short period—almost the time it took for this debate to be thought about and brought to this House for consideration. The number of members now equates to one sixth of the total Assembly. That is evidence of a change of heart among some in South Korea and certainly among those in the Assembly and political positions. That is where change starts, because they will lead the people. Many times we have to do that: we have to lead the people in certain things that we do. We have to give leadership when it comes to change that will be beneficial for everyone. The Democratic Unionist party gave leadership to Northern Ireland when it came to moving forward in the political process, and the people were prepared to accept that leadership as well.
The softening towards change in South Korea should be capitalised on. We need to see how we can help to support those South Koreans who feel that this practice must change. Let us work with those who want change in South Korea and let us make it happen. It is out of our power to demand anything, but I believe that the sensitive and cautious way in which this Government have approached the issue means that we can offer assistance and positively reinforce how that change will help the way others view what is a beautiful country that has so much to offer. We must use all opportunities to encourage our allies to offer the same support to those who believe that change is possible. We can make a change using the methods that we have been using so far. I believe that we can continue to do that. I look forward to the response from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), and in particular from the Minister. Perhaps he will indicate some of the changes that are taking place. If someone’s mind is open to change, change can happen. We want to try to ensure that the minds of those in South Korea are open to change. Let us constructively, effectively and positively make that change.
• Martin Docherty-Hughes (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) on securing the debate, which has generated considerable interest in my constituency, especially from constituents who are rightly concerned about the mistreatment of animals not only in the UK but across the globe. I am grateful to my constituents for contacting me.
I am pleased to speak in the debate, as this issue is of interest to many people in my community and is close to my heart, given that I am buddy and best pal to two whippets. The hon. Gentleman mentioned greyhounds. Along with greyhounds, whippets and lurchers are most likely to end up in the food chain in later life, given that they are involved in careers such as dog racing, official and unofficial, and coursing, and once they are at the end of their careers, they are seen as surplus to requirements.
Like most people across the UK and in the Chamber, I find that the idea of any harm coming to or cruelty being done to my dogs, or animals in general, fills me with dismay. However, it would be naive of us to think that animal cruelty does not take place. We must acknowledge that there are people out there who seek pleasure from inflicting pain on defenceless animals. Sadly, stories of animal mistreatment are widespread across the news outlets. In most cases, they are highlighted by charities and volunteers, especially those based in places such as South Korea but also in other nations across the world, to bring the issue to the attention of the wider public—something that they are very successful at doing and must be thanked for and congratulated on.
I welcome the action taken by the UK Government and the Scottish Government to combat animal cruelty within these borders, which sadly needs to be constantly acted on, although I believe that we are winning this particular battle by educating the population on the complete unacceptability and illegality of animal cruelty. Like so many issues, animal cruelty and mistreatment crosses national borders, sometimes literally with the transportation of animals that are travelling in terrible conditions between countries, which brings me on to the dog meat trade—specifically, for this debate, in South Korea.
For most people, especially in the UK, the idea of dog meat being eaten by humans goes against the grain, as dogs are very much part of family life and have been for millennia. However, the practice of eating dog meat is culturally acceptable in a number of countries across the world and therefore, as many hon. Members have said, we must be very cautious and sensitive when dealing with the matter in order to achieve a positive outcome.
I will enter a caveat, though. It is worth stating that all cultures change and evolve. We do not seek to force our cultural perceptions of eating dog meat on the people of South Korea and other nations, as that would potentially make matters worse and undo the important work that has been carried out by animal charities in South Korea. That work has led to the South Korean Government introducing legislation and regulation in relation to the methods used by those involved in the dog meat trade, in an attempt to counter the bad practices associated with it.
The actions of the South Korean Government, specifically in relation to this debate, are a step in the right direction, but animal rights groups argue that the regulations have had very little impact in terms of stopping the trade altogether, so great challenges still lie ahead in bringing about comprehensive change. It must be noted, however, that the practice is falling out of favour with the younger generation. As the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said, it did not really come to prevalence until the Korean war, so the link between conflict and poverty and the need to eat meat is clear.
The UK Government have an important and vital role to play, particularly through the education of people on the arguments about human health and animal welfare, as those are the best ways to get communities and societies to change. Only by working together with the Government, people and animal rights charities in South Korea can any change be brought about. We cannot and must not force them to follow our path, but we can certainly offer them our full support and encouragement.
The dog meat trade is an extremely important animal welfare issue, and I am proud that the Scottish National party and our Government in Edinburgh are committed to supporting charities working with international counterparts to promote and protect animal rights globally. I am sure that the UK Government will take this issue seriously and, as highlighted by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), work with all devolved Governments in promoting animal welfare with our global partners.
• Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
Given that we are within the first hour of the debate it is appropriate to thank you, Mr Nuttall, for calling me so early in this session. I have enjoyed every contribution that has been made. In particular, the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) had a difficult task in not only presenting his views but doing justice to the petition. That is not something he wrote, but it is appropriate we consider it here this afternoon. I do not disagree with a word said by any of the contributors thus far and because of that I want to build on the contributions that have been made about the soft power that we as a country and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should be using to, if not coerce, certainly concentrate the minds of those who can make a change in South Korea to what, we all accept, is a horrendous situation.
It was great to get the Library briefing, which is incredibly detailed and starkly paints the difficulties that we face. This is a $2 billion a year industry in South Korea. It is not just a few restaurants that need to be hidden from public view when people visit for the winter Olympics in two years’ time; there are 20,000 of them in South Korea. There are 9,000 health food stores selling the tonics that my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) referred to. This is a massive part of the local economy in South Korea. I am keen to hear from the Minister whether discussions have been had, or could be had, with his colleagues responsible for agriculture or in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to show an alternative income stream for farmers who clearly recognise how lucrative the dog meat trade is in their country and to encourage them—whether diplomatically or economically—to shift their focus and recognise that there is a better way to provide for their people.
Contrary to popular belief the dog meat available for sale in South Korea is not cheap, so although it may have started off as a response to the impoverished conditions of the Korean war, it is not something that remains because people cannot find alternative sources of food—it is a choice, a lucrative choice. If we have a response to make this afternoon, it should be to focus on how we as a country do not just cajole but encourage those involved in the dog meat trade—whatever motivates them—to change their tack, change their focus and recognise that they should inject a better form of welfare to the meat industry they are involved in.
Given that we do not have a business or agriculture representative from Government here, it is appropriate that we recognise that—although the dog meat trade is an important debate and 102,000 people signed the petition nationally so that we would consider it here today—the Foreign Office and South Korea have some bigger issues on their plates at the moment. South Korea, only a day ago, was threatening to declare nuclear war with North Korea following a test-fired missile within the last week. That just shows how difficult the situation is within that region of our world and how difficult the politics are within the region from a Foreign Office perspective.
Although I recognise the Minister will give us his commitment today that he will take the issue of dog meat seriously, it is incumbent upon us as representatives of this United Kingdom Parliament to recognise that some issues—even though this is an important one—are more acute for South Korea, North Korea and the international world at large. Although I know the Minister will give us a commitment of his tenacity on this issue, we need to recognise that this is one of many that require a focus with South Korea.
• Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thoughtful speech and the important points he is making. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) on initiating this debate. My hon. Friend mentioned soft power and ensuring that we continue to keep this matter to the fore of people’s minds, despite the other very acute issues that are out there.
We accept that South Korea, the UK Government and other Governments are dealing with other grave matters, but is it not important—the Olympics come round every four years as has been said—that we do not allow these issues to come round now and again, but that we continue to raise them in a supportive and positive way through engagement with the South Korean Government? As parliamentarians, our duty is to continue to raise these matters with our own Ministers and on the international bodies that we are represented on.
• Gavin Robinson
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that contribution. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) made reference to the Yulin dog meat festival, which has been considered in Westminster Hall and in the main Chamber. I was pleased to join her colleague, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), when we presented a petition to the Chinese embassy in London. They did not open the door, but I have no doubt we will be back next year. My right hon. Friend’s point is incredibly important: we cannot focus on this just because of the winter Olympics and the opportunity in the next two years to shine a spotlight on the dog meat industry in South Korea. It is our job to make sure that the focus does not wither.
Building on the comments that have been made about some of the local issues we face on animal cruelty and animal welfare, it is important to recognise that from my own constituency’s perspective, we do not have our sorrows to seek. Individuals are convicted for dog fighting and for stealing domestic cats in order to train their dogs to be involved in the dog fighting industry. I received an email today—I will have to look at it in more detail—that suggests that permission has been given for a beagle farm in Hull for 2,000 dogs to be bred per year for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. I do not know enough about that, and I am not sure I am in a position to consider criticising it at this stage because I recognise the necessity, but it is incumbent on us all to recognise that it is not just outwith this country that there are welfare issues.
• Kerry McCarthy
On that particular point, it is particularly disappointing that, as I understand it, the local council opposed the setting up of the beagle farm for toxicity tests on dogs; the former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), also rejected it; and it was only when there was a change of incumbent in that post that it was allowed. It is really disappointing that it has been allowed. The two leading lights of the campaign against it are Stanley Johnson and Professor Michael Balls—both of whom have sons who have been Members of this place. They are formidable campaigners on this, and I hope that we can eventually overturn it.
• Gavin Robinson
I am grateful for that additional information, although I am sure that if I proceed with the issue you will remind me it is ancillary to the debate at hand, Mr Nuttall. The broader point is that on animal welfare—issues that not only motivate us, but create a really passionate response from our constituents and have encouraged more than 100,000 people to sign the petition—we cannot lose sight of those easy wins or important goals that we should be seeking to secure at home as well as abroad. With that, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate and I look forward to the responses by those on the Front Benches.
• Dr Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (SNP)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) on leading this debate so effectively, and also congratulate other Members on contributing in a very positive and intelligent manner.
E-petition 120702 has attracted over 100,000 signatures —many from Scotland—and I feel that reflects widespread concern across the nations of the UK about animal welfare generally, and the welfare of dogs in particular. Today we have heard alarming and upsetting reports of dogs being mistreated and abused in the dog meat trade; however, we must be cautious in our approach towards other countries’ cultural practices and be sensitive in working to bring about change, as noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier). This is particularly the case given the prevalence of animal crimes such as dog fighting in the UK. It is clearly important that we recognise our own weaknesses and respect the sovereignty of other nations. Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) for making that point so clearly, along with the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson).
Many Asian countries have only relatively recently begun to consider dogs as pets and so the animals are viewed very differently to the way they are viewed in the west. The reverse is also true. Some Asian countries consider cattle and pigs in very sacred terms and view our slaughter and consumption of those species as completely unacceptable. I hope that highlights the extent to which we must be mindful of other nations’ rights and cultural practices. Again, that point was well made by the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy).
The SNP Government in Scotland take the welfare of animals very seriously and have led the way in protecting and promoting animal rights. I wish that approach to be sustained. In that context, my colleagues and I in the Scottish National party strongly condemn the abuse and inhumane treatment of all animals, including dogs within the dog meat trade. We encourage a cautious and culturally sensitive approach to bringing about change that supports animal rights groups in South Korea, and indeed, in other countries. Some progress is being made in that regard, with a growing political movement in South Korea championing animal rights. We should encourage that movement, as I think we all agree.
E-petition 120702, which relates specifically to South Korea and the dog meat trade, seeks to urge the South Korean Government to end the unsympathetic and often brutal treatment of dogs. We know that in South Korea an estimated 5 million dogs are slaughtered every year for their meat and we understand that during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the South Korean Government attempted to hide dog meat restaurants from the international media to avoid criticism. That act implies, of course, both an awareness of the dog meat industry in South Korea and, perhaps more importantly, an understanding by South Korea of how that trade is perceived by the outside world.
Thirty years later, many of us here today are concerned that the International Olympic Committee has authorised South Korea to hold the 2018 winter Olympics, given that the use and abuse of dogs remains the same, if perhaps not worse, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) suggested. On behalf of the Scottish National Party, I ask the UK Government to speak against the IOC’s judgment and ask the South Korean Government to respond to the dog meat issues identified here today, with a view to making the abuse of dogs in this trade illegal.
I alluded earlier to the fact that South Korea is not alone in allowing the breeding and slaughter of dogs for human consumption. As we have heard, the World Dog Alliance has produced an important analysis of this lucrative trade across Asia. Sadly, the trade is common across Asia, with countries such as China, the Philippines and Vietnam, in addition to South Korea, considering it culturally acceptable to varying degrees to eat dog meat. Many will be surprised, however, to learn that dog meat is also consumed in Switzerland, Mexico, the Arctic and the Antarctic, despite most western cultures considering the slaughter of dogs for meat unacceptable.
What is perhaps important here is the condition in which dogs are often kept prior to being slaughtered for human consumption. Some argue that dogs are often tortured before being killed because of a belief that it causes their meat to be tender. There are also concerns that most so-called “meat dogs” are stolen companion dogs and strays who are kept in terrible conditions while being transported from country to country. There are distressing accounts that reflect practices that are inconsistent with the Korea Food and Drug Administration’s regulations classifying dog meat as a “repugnant” food.
I am also pleased that South Korea’s Animal Protection Amendment Act 2007 expressly prohibits some cruel methods used by people in the dog meat trade to handle and slaughter dogs. However, animal rights groups have found that the regulations have had little impact to date on the trade in dog meat. Perhaps more promisingly, animal rights groups have pointed out that the consumption of dog meat is going out of favour with younger generations. Again, that should be encouraged.
Given that there are no international laws prohibiting the consumption of dog meat, the challenge for the UK Government is not one of intervening or implementing trade measures against countries where the consumption of dog meat is regarded as culturally acceptable, it is one of diplomacy—and for the UK Government to instruct ambassadors and Foreign Office officials to raise the issues highlighted here today with the Governments of China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Switzerland, Mexico, South Korea and others.
• Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that for those approaches to be successful, they have to be handled extremely sensitively to avoid them being counter-productive? If they are handled sensitively, that gives us the best chance of achieving the progress we all want to see.
• Dr Monaghan
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, if we are to have an impact and an influence on other nations that are trading in dog meat and allowing its consumption, we have to do so very sensitively, in ways that are culturally sensitive and reflective of our practices here in the UK.
• Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
Does my hon. Friend agree that despite the apparent desperation of the UK Government regarding the potential trade ramifications of Brexit, that should be no rationale for failing to put pressure on countries that engage in animal welfare and cruelty issues, as is the case with South Korea and the dog meat trade?
• Dr Monaghan
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. There is nothing to say that Brexit and our attempt to influence the practices of other nations cannot occur in parallel.
In doing all that, the UK Government must reflect the interests and concerns of all those who have signed this petition and advance those interests in a sensitive and supportive manner, as I said, to bring about an end to the abuse of dogs farmed or stolen for human consumption. The UK Government should also provide diplomatic support for animal rights groups that are operational in South Korea and support their valuable work in taking action in a culturally sensitive and educational manner.
In response to this petition, the UK Government have stated:
“The British Embassy in Seoul has raised the issue of cruelty towards animals on numerous occasions with the South Korean authorities and explained that the UK public and parliamentarians would like to see Korean regulation that would bring the practice to an end. We will continue to seek further opportunities to raise the issue, in particular as we approach the Winter Olympics in 2018, and will monitor developments in the practice in the Republic of Korea.”
In the absence of international norms, laws or agreements governing the trade and consumption of meat, the Scottish National Party believes that it is necessary to work with Governments around the world to build consensus on animal welfare standards and to phase out cruel and inhumane farming.
The trend in South Korea is such that dog meat consumption seems likely to diminish and perhaps even end due to the growing public awareness and recognition of animal rights and the health risks associated with eating dog meat. Dogs are known to be intelligent, trusting and empathetic and possess a range of senses of such acuity that we have only just begun to identify and fully understand them.
Dogs are one of the few animals capable of following a human’s gaze, implying an awareness of “other”. Those attributes arguably differentiate dogs from other animals, and certainly other animals that are normally farmed. We ask the Government to take affirmative action, to listen and to hasten an end to the consumption of dog meat in South Korea. The Scottish National party will support that diplomatic mission.
• Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Nuttall. A number of excellent contributions have been made today, and as ever with many of these Westminster Hall debates, there has been a great deal of consensus across the Chamber.
With over 100,000 individuals signing the petition relating to animal cruelty and dogs, in particular, in South Korea, it has evidently sparked a lot of interest among our constituents, so it is very pleasing to be able to speak in the debate on behalf of Labour and to challenge the Minister to do all he can to put this issue on the record personally and through his offices in the Foreign Office. We have heard a number of excellent contributions, not least from the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) who set the debate off and particularly underlined the fact that the 2018 winter Olympics gives us a good opportunity to talk about this issue and our constituents’ concerns about the cruelty of the animal trade.
Several concerns persist about the use of dogs for meat. In particular, many of the dogs are kept in terrible conditions, including in a system similar to that of battery chickens in which dogs are tightly confined in metal cages and subject to long periods in the hot sun of Korean summers and the freezing cold of winters without the ability to move freely around.
The way in which dogs are bred remains an issue in the UK but it is of far greater concern in South Korea given that there is less government regulation there. We have read many briefings about deformities, and fertility and inherited health conditions. Those issues are rightly of great concern to leading charities, constituents and campaigners. Tragic incidents of dogs being fed on other dogs have come to light through briefings. Has the Minister raised those issues with Minister Yun Byung-se?
Tackling the issue must go beyond pressing for legislative reforms. This afternoon, we have heard about some cultural changes, which are very welcome indeed. The fact that many of the older generation are partaking less in the tradition of eating the product and that younger people tend to have chicken soup rather than dog stew is probably a positive culinary development. I am pleased that the Minister and his officers are prepared to tackle some of the cultural norms, and we must not be afraid of doing so. The practice of having a pet is now becoming common in Asia, which is perhaps leading to a greater understanding of the inappropriateness of the treatment of many poor animals.
I will draw briefly on some highlights of the debate. I was interested to hear the reflections of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson). The past week has shown that there are, indeed, massive political issues in the Korean peninsula, and it would be remiss of us not to mention that. I have every sympathy for the Minister in organising his priorities when he next meets with Korean colleagues and his opposite number.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) made a salient point about the European Union, hoping that our own regulation will not go backwards. Indeed, the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan), mentioned that the UK has a wealth of experience because of our traditions and our relationship with the EU. We hope that we do not go backwards in the post-Brexit confusion that we seem to be in, but that we continue to hold those standards as high as we possibly can.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) mentioned foxhunting. I am sure that South Korean campaigners feel strongly about that, and they are quite right to raise the issue of such practices in some of our rural and countryside areas.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) has spoken eloquently not just today, but in previous debates, about best practice in animal husbandry. She has a great track record of interest in and love of animal welfare, as well as human rights. She was quite right to hark back the golden era of Lord Hague, when human rights and such issues were higher up the agenda. At that time, we enjoyed having a sense of peace of mind that such issues were being raised at the highest level. The feeling now is that when Foreign Office Ministers meet with their counterparts abroad, the approach not just to human rights, but to animal welfare, is different. However, I would be happy to be disabused of that notion if the Minister chooses to have that debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East was right to mention that other parts of Asia, including Singapore and other countries, have outlawed dog meat. Will the Minister comment not just on the cultural change, but on the change happening in the region?
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Sir Alan Meale) made a good point about making a stand and ensuring that, as Members of Parliament, we tell our Government what we would like on the list of priorities and the agenda when the Minister meets with his counterpart in South Korea.
• Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab)
I am grateful for this late and welcome opportunity to support my hon. Friend’s points and to join all those who want the maximum pressure exerted to stop these appalling practices.
• Catherine West
We are all aware of the high-profile debate about grammar schools in the Chamber now, which is perhaps why there are not as many hon. Members in Westminster Hall. Nevertheless, we have representation from almost every party, which is great.
• Lady Hermon
A number of hon. Members referred to the atrocious trade of greyhounds being exported and cruelly consumed in South Korea. Greyhounds are very intelligent animals. They also have a high haemoglobin count and are one of the few types of dog that can give another dog a blood transfusion. Therefore, will the hon. Lady take the opportunity to say something about what her party, as a united party on this issue, might do to ensure that greyhounds are not exported through Europe or elsewhere, so that they are not consumed—which is a grisly business—in South Korea?
• Catherine West
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East has a track record of raising that issue on a number of occasions and has been a champion for animal welfare. Certainly, we could raise the greyhound issue with the Government again. Perhaps we could even seek a further debate here so that we give campaigners every assurance that it is at the top of our animal welfare agenda.
Finally, there are questions that go beyond the specifics of dog meat. The UK has come a long way in improving practices to ensure that our meat industry has, as much as it can, a sense of health and safety, welfare requirements and systems for oversight and scrutiny. Depending on the level of detail into which the Minister gets with his colleagues in South Korea, perhaps we could do some best practice exchanges. Our universities and veterinary schools have excellence in research and development. Are there some R and D exchanges that the Minister could give us some assurance on?
I thank you, Mr Nuttall, for chairing the debate. I hope we can continue to see progress, particularly in the timing of the Minister’s interventions with his opposite number. As the big events of 2018 come up, he will have more opportunities to develop relationships with countries that are hosting large sporting events. He, his officers, his parliamentary private secretaries and all the other Ministers who get to pop into South Korea and make representations on many issues can try several different approaches.
• The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alok Sharma)
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this incredibly important debate, Mr Nuttall. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden) on accepting the petition and securing the debate, and I thank the Petitions Committee for its work.
I begin by declaring an interest. My family and I adore dogs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) demonstrated his love for cats—specifically Larry, the No. 10 cat—by producing photographic evidence. If right hon. and hon. Members will indulge me, I would also like to offer some photographic evidence of Olly, my five-year-old golden retriever. It is often said that dogs and owners end up resembling each other—
• Mr David Nuttall (in the Chair)
Order. I am sure that the Minister is keen to show us his dog, but he is out of order.
• Alok Sharma
I apologise, Mr Nuttall. [Interruption.] There is a different view, perhaps, in the Public Gallery. I have induced an element of levity and I apologise if that was not warranted. I did it to make the point that people in this country have a special relationship with dogs. Like millions of dog owners across our great nation, my wife, daughters and I regard our dog as a treasured member of our family. I am certain that all hon. Members present who have dogs feel exactly the same way about their canine friends.
The Westminster dog of the year competition is a wonderful innovation that allows individual parliamentarians not just to showcase their best friend but to highlight to the world at large that those who make Britain’s laws care deeply about the welfare of animals. The very idea of eating dog meat or allowing any form of cruelty to be visited on dogs, or indeed on any other animal, is anathema to us all.
It is clear that the British public feel strongly about the dog meat trade in South Korea and more widely. More than 100,000 people signed the petition, and we have had excellent contributions from hon. Members highlighting their own and their constituents’ heartfelt concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere made an excellent opening contribution. He wanted to know what specifically the UK Government are doing to engage South Korea in dialogue on this issue, which I will address later. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) made a fantastic speech, and she was keen to make the point that the UK Government should not somehow hide behind the fact that in some countries it is legal to eat dog meat. She pressed me on what we are doing as a Government.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) talked about the support that the UK Government may be providing to local charities in some of these jurisdictions. She and a number of other hon. Members also spoke about the winter Olympics, which I will of course discuss later. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about local charities and the work that South Korean politicians may be doing on this issue. Again, I will address that in my remarks. The hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes) said that culture evolves, and he is right that culture does evolve in these countries. I will talk about how culture is evolving and coming around to our way of thinking on dogs and animal welfare.
The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) made an important point about the use of soft power. We have a good relationship with the South Korean Government and many other Governments in that part of the world, and of course we should be using those relationships. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) said that we need to take a sensitive approach in such discussions. After all, this is about persuasion.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), the shadow Minister, also wanted to know about the winter Olympics, and she echoed the points raised by the hon. Member for Bristol East about how the Foreign Office is working with other Departments to highlight issues related to animal welfare and human rights. The shadow Minister made an interesting point about exchanging best practice in the meat industry.
I hope to cover many, if not all, of those points. If I do not manage to cover them all, I will be happy to have a further discussion with hon. Members. Of course, I will write to them on any substantive issues that they wish to raise.
• Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con)
Huge apologies for being late. I would have put in to speak in this debate, but I could not get here.
I am the co-chair of the all-party animal welfare group, and I have two quick points. Given that we have such a high reputation across the world for our animal welfare, I urge the Minister to use those levers to work with countries where dog meat is still on the menu and with pet owners in those countries on animal welfare standards and on forming their own strong lobbies against the dog meat trade.
My second point, which I am sure has already been raised, is on rabies. There is a strong connection between handling dog meat and a high incidence of rabies. On health grounds, we should press that handling dog meat is not a good practice.
• Alok Sharma
My hon. Friend makes some excellent points, which I will cover. She is right that we need to highlight the negative health issues connected with eating dog meat. Of course, we should also encourage those who are working hard in many of these jurisdictions to change attitudes and culture. I will talk about what is happening in a positive way in some of these countries, particularly in South Korea.
Given our discussion, I would like to raise three particular aspects. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere and many others raised the cultural aspect of the consumption of dog meat. Secondly, there is the issue of welfare and the conditions in which the dogs are reared before they are subsequently killed for their meat. Specifically, I will address what we, the British Government, are doing to influence change. Thirdly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) just pointed out, I will cover the potential health risks of eating dog meat. I will also discuss the enormous amount of work that the UK Government are leading on antimicrobial resistance.
As hon. Members have noted, eating dog meat has been part of the culture of certain countries—sometimes going back hundreds of years and sometimes, as has been pointed out, slightly more recent. However distressing we may find the consumption of dog meat, we need to recognise that there are cultural differences across the globe. We need to respect that in some countries the sale and consumption of dog meat is legal.
Dogs are not an internationally protected species, and there are no international norms, laws or agreements covering the trade and consumption of dog meat. As a Government we aim to influence changes in attitudes and behaviour. No one would be happier than me if the consumption of dog meat ended tomorrow, but dictating to people in South Korea or anywhere else that they should not eat dog meat would be akin to another country telling us that we should not eat beef or pork. We need to win hearts and minds as a way of effecting change in attitudes to dog meat consumption. I will outline the specific support that the British Government are providing in that respect.
It is encouraging that in countries where dog meat is consumed—a number of hon. Members alluded to this—there are already signs that the culture and tradition is beginning to fade among the younger generation and the emerging middle classes, who view dogs as pets and companions rather than as a food source. In a recent survey 60% of under 30-year-olds in South Korea said that they regarded dogs as pets, and we would all expect that trend to continue.
In May 2016, 300,000 Koreans signed a petition calling on their Government to improve the country’s animal welfare Act. The petition was started by the Korean Animal Welfare Association, and it garnered those 300,000 signatures in five days on the back of Korean TV broadcasting a programme called “Animal Farm”, which highlighted abuses at puppy farms in the country. We should take heart from those trends and celebrate that many people in countries with a history of dog meat consumption share British attitudes towards dogs.
Although we need to be culturally sensitive, it is right that we speak up loudly on animal welfare matters. The UK Government take seriously all reports of animal cruelty wherever it takes place, whether in Britain or elsewhere. We are committed to raising standards of animal welfare and to phasing out cruel and inhumane practices both in the UK and overseas. Members have noted some of the cruel practices to which dogs reared for meat are subjected, and they have pointed out that in recent days a number of national newspapers have graphically highlighted some of the awful suffering and pain to which dogs are subjected in captivity and as they are killed. I was absolutely shocked by those images. There can be no excuse for barbarity against animals, wherever it takes place.
[Phil Wilson in the Chair]
The British Government are at the forefront of efforts to protect the welfare of animals. In Britain, all owners and keepers must provide for the welfare needs of their animals. Failure to do so is an offence. I acknowledge the important work done by organisations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare and, of course, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to improve standards of animal welfare both in the UK and in other countries. More widely, the United Kingdom hosted the first high-level conference on the illegal wildlife trade in 2014, in which more than 40 countries participated.
The dog meat trade was last debated in this House in November 2015. In that debate, the former Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), gave an account of the work that we are doing in the Asia-Pacific region. As this petition relates primarily to South Korea, I will outline our work on this issue in that country specifically, although of course we are working with a range of countries, as the Government outlined last year.
• Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)
I apologise for not having been here earlier. The Minister mentioned the debate a year ago; I was there. Little progress seems to have been made since that time, but there has been a change in view among some politicians in South Korea and elsewhere. What specifically are the Government doing to work with those progressive forces, if I can put it that way, on this serious issue?
• Alok Sharma
I will come to what we are doing, and what I personally have done, in terms of dialogue with representatives of the South Korean Government. We must acknowledge that there has been some change. I mentioned the changes in South Korea itself, and the fact that people in that country are recognising the need for change. We must give credit where it is due. With respect, I would say that progress is being made. It might not be fast enough for all of us in this room, but it is being made. As I said, I will come to what the Government and I are doing specifically in terms of dialogue with the South Korean Government.
Before I explain what action we are taking specifically on the dog meat trade, I will outline our broader bilateral relationship with South Korea, which a number of Members mentioned. The state visit by President Park in 2013 and our annual Foreign Secretary-level strategic dialogue are testament to the strength of our growing strategic partnership. Our bilateral discussions range widely, from the situation in North Korea to security in the wider region, climate change and terrorism.
Numerous Members, including the shadow Minister, alluded to the situation in North Korea. I can confirm that this afternoon I summoned the North Korean ambassador to the Foreign Office and explained to him in strong terms that the British Government do not believe that what the North Koreans are doing in terms of nuclear testing is acceptable.
However, we share similar views with South Korea on many international issues; our voting records in the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council are closely aligned. We supported and welcomed South Korea’s decision to deploy personnel to the UK-led effort to tackle Ebola in Sierra Leone. It was the only non-western country to do so, and the fact that South Korea chose to partner with the UK is further evidence of our strong relationship. We welcome increasing bilateral trade and investment ties between our two nations. It is the strength of our bilateral relationship and growing friendship that allows us the space to speak frankly on so many matters, including the dog meat trade.
Indeed, this morning, before this debate, I spoke to the South Korean ambassador, Ambassador Hwang, on the subject and explained the strength of feeling here in the UK. His view, as he expressed it, was that the South Korean Government are trying to address this issue by raising awareness around pet ownership and educating the Korean public about animal welfare issues. As he pointed out to me, the number of restaurants in South Korea serving dog meat is decreasing, while the number of pet owners is increasing.
• Jim Shannon
In my speech, I mentioned that in the five months from May to September, 51 National Assembly members in South Korea signed up to a group, similar to our all-party parliamentary groups, on the sale and consumption of dog meat. Have the British Government had the opportunity at any stage to speak to that group? If not, I encourage the Minister and the British Government to do so.
• Alok Sharma
We talk to a range of organisations, but I am happy to discuss the issue with the hon. Gentleman subsequent to this debate. We certainly know that there is an opportunity and a need to engage, not just with the Government but with charitable organisations.
• Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (Ind)
Given the great success of the Westminster dog of the year competition last week, of which the Minister spoke so highly, could he have a diplomatic word with his counterpart regarding that great success? Surely it would be a small but significant step in changing attitudes and minds if the South Korean Government also hosted such an event annually.
• Alok Sharma
The hon. Lady raises an intriguing point. I am sure that many people will be listening with great interest to this debate, including representatives of the South Korean Government, and that they will have heard that very good suggestion.
Several Members commented on the work being done by South Korean politicians. It was reported in July 2016 that, in response to media coverage, the South Korean Agriculture Ministry had launched an investigation into serious abuses at the country’s puppy farms and thousands of other places where dogs are raised for meat. A meeting was held at the South Korean National Assembly in August to discuss revision of the Animal Protection Act, and I understand that an amendment may be tabled sometime this autumn.
What else are the UK Government doing to tackle the scourge of appalling welfare conditions experienced by many dogs? We face limitations. As hon. Members have noted, the consumption of dog meat is not illegal in South Korea and a number of other countries, dogs are not an internationally protected species and, of course, the UK has no jurisdiction to take action in countries where the practice is legal. However, I agree that although we have no legal jurisdiction, we can and do still work hard to make our views known to the South Korean Government and press for change.
Our ambassador in Seoul has raised the issue of animal welfare, and the dog meat trade in particular, with the South Korean authorities on several occasions, and has stressed the desire in the UK to see the practice brought to an end. Our reputation as a nation of animal lovers means that we can make a strong case for dogs as pets rather than as food. We raise with South Korea our concerns about the conditions in which dogs in the dog meat trade are kept.
We are also working with charities operating in South Korea, both to encourage improvement of those conditions and to encourage dog farmers to seek other sources of income, a point made by the hon. Member for Belfast East. The UK charity Change for Animals Foundation offers dog farmers alternative avenues for income, buys their animals and sends the dogs to rescue centres around the globe. Farmers who take part in the scheme sign a legally binding contract preventing them from rearing dogs in the future. In April, officials from our embassy in Seoul visited a dog farm with the charity. The farmer had more than 250 dogs that he agreed to sell to the charity and start a scrap metal business instead, using the cages left over from the farm. Other previous dog meat traders have switched to other pursuits, including beekeeping. We will continue to support the work of that charity.
Health risks have been discussed. Although we want an end to the eating of dog meat and to the dog meat trade itself, until that happens we want to encourage the South Korean Government to improve regulation in the industry—the shadow Minister alluded to that as well—not just on animal welfare grounds, but due to the risks to human health associated with anti-microbial resistance when antibiotics used in livestock farming enter the food chain. It has been reported that the use of antibiotics in the dog meat trade is widespread in South Korea. Although the World Health Organisation recognises that the use of antibiotics in livestock farming is a concern, no research is currently available on the impact of AMR caused by the use of antibiotics in the dog meat trade.
The UK is an international leader on tackling AMR and is committed to full implementation of the 2015 global action plan. We will host an AMR event in New York at the UN General Assembly later this month, and we have invited South Korea to take part. Several hon. Members discussed changes in attitude in other countries in south-east Asia. When we talk about the health risks of eating dog meat, it is worth noting that in 2013 the Philippines outlawed the consumption and sale of dog meat in an attempt to prevent the spread of rabies.
Several hon. Members mentioned the forthcoming winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in 2018. High-profile global events such as Olympic games can be a catalyst for positive change. The South Korean Government will be aware that the high profile of the winter games could cast a spotlight on issues such as the dog meat trade, and we will continue our dialogue with them on it.
The hon. Member for Bristol East raised the issue of human rights. I want to make it clear that we regularly raise human rights issues with relevant countries where we have concerns; I have done so myself in my two months as a Minister. The Department for International Trade is now in the same building as my Department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and we have a regular dialogue, but I will certainly take the hon. Lady’s points on board.
We will continue to work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that all Governments in the UK do as much as possible to promote animal welfare standards in the UK. We will also continue to work with our international partners.
Pedigree racing dogs were also mentioned. The animal reception centre at Heathrow plays an incredibly important role in enforcing the regulations that protect animal welfare during transport. In May, the centre prevented greyhounds from Ireland from being transported to China, because their cages were deemed too small to meet the requirements designed to protect the welfare of animals during transport on planes. We do take action where we see the need.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) asked what checks there are on meat that comes into the UK and whether there is any contamination of the food chain. Given what has happened in the past, that is a perfectly relevant question. Any meat imported into the UK, or indeed into the EU, has to be accompanied by a health certificate to attest that it has met certain requirements. The UK has strict procedures in place to prevent meat such as dog meat from entering the food chain.
A point was raised about the work of Humane Society International and whether the Government are interacting with it. I can confirm that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is funding an HSI project in Vietnam, through the UK Government’s illegal wildlife trade challenge fund. However, the Government are not working directly with HSI on the issue of dog meat.
This has been an incredibly important and wide-ranging debate, in which Members have raised some incredibly important points. I am absolutely sure that people outside the House who have watched the debate will have understood the strength of feeling of Members of Parliament and of the many others present today. I assure the House that, although the dog meat trade and the practice of eating dog meat may not be illegal, there is nothing to stop us from raising our concerns about it with the South Korean Government or other Governments, as we have done in the past and will continue to do.
More widely, the UK remains committed to its global leadership role in helping to tackle the illegal wildlife trade. We will continue to work to raise standards of animal welfare across the world and to end animal cruelty wherever it prevails. Governments and peoples around the world listen to the views expressed in the British Parliament, and I am certain that this debate—and the heartfelt contributions from all hon. Members present—will be another significant milestone on the road to helping to improve the welfare of dogs and, ultimately, to ending the dog meat trade itself.
• Oliver Dowden
Thank you, Mr Wilson, for assuming the Chair after my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall).
I think all hon. Members will agree that we have had a very good debate this afternoon. The passion of the contributions reflects the passion of the correspondence we have all received from our constituents. I hope that those people who have written to us feel satisfied that the debate has properly been heard in the Westminster Hall Chamber.
I thank the Minister for his response and for his particularly visible demonstration of his love for animals. He dealt comprehensively with all the points raised, but I echo many hon. Members—particularly those who have been engaged with this campaign for a long time—in saying that actions speak louder than words, and that we look forward to the Minister taking our suggestions forward.
Perhaps it is appropriate, at the end of the debate, to reflect on the famous words often attributed to Gandhi:
“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals.”
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 120702 relating to South Korea and the dog meat trade.