While most Westerners view dogs strictly as companion or working animals and find the practice of raising and slaughtering dogs for food strange and unsettling, a large number of people in South Korea as well as in China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, consume dog meat. What is considered “normal,” of course, is often a matter of cultural perspective—especially when it comes to culinary practices and taboos.
Extreme cruelty, however, cannot be dismissed as merely a matter of cultural norms. The sad fact is that in many places where dog meat is consumed, the dogs raised for food commonly endure a lifetime of abuse and often are slaughtered in a manner that is nightmarish in its brutality. Two places in particular where this is true are South Korea and the Philippines.
Although dogs may have been kept and killed for food in South Korea over a thousand years ago, the nonprofit International Aid for Korean Animals asserts that in modern times, dog meat consumption is not a tradition deeply embedded into the nation’s culture: “Even during desperate times … the consumption of dog was not a dietary tradition. Like anywhere else, dog was eaten only as a last-ditch resort to avoid starvation. Then sometime in the last century the practice was taken up by a few older men for mythical health benefits regarding virility.”1
Two million dogs are purportedly killed for food every year in South Korea, and over 100,000 metric tons of dog meat are consumed annually.2 Consumption of dog meat is mainly associated with the Boknal festival, where attendees attempt to extract some medicinal healing powers from the consumption of dog. There is a belief that eating dog during the festival will keep one cool. This is particularly evident during Bok days, the three hottest days of the summer according to the lunar calendar.
Dog meat farms are scattered throughout the countryside, and the industry was estimated several years ago to be worth over US$200 million.3 The farms primarily raise a type of large, yellow, mixed-breed dog common to South Korea. These are not the only dogs eaten, however; unfortunately, the abandonment of pets is common in South Korea, and small, purebred dogs fall victim to the dog meat trade, as well, after they are unceremoniously dumped into the streets by owners who have grown tired of them. Such abandoned dogs are picked up by a collector, stuffed into tiny wire cages filled to capacity with other such dogs, and taken to Moran Market (the largest dog meat market in the nation) and other smaller markets around the country to be slaughtered.
Younger South Koreans tend to shy away from eating dogs, and the percentage of South Koreans who eat dog meat on a regular basis is believed to be relatively small. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has spoken out against the consumption of dog meat, saying he hopes the trade becomes “phased out.” Early in his presidency, Jae-in adopted a four-year-old black mongrel dog rescued from a dog meat farm.
South Korean law is ambiguous on the legality of the dog meat trade and official efforts to reign in the trade have been half-hearted at best. One legal analyst concluded that “there is no clear law governing matters relating to dog meat. While there is no explicit recognition of dog meat as legitimate food and of dogs as animals fit for human consumption, neither is there a clear ban on sale or slaughter of dogs for food.”4
South Korea’s Animal Protection Amendment Act of 2007 expressly prohibits some of the cruel methods used by people in the dog meat trade to handle and slaughter dogs. The law, however, is widely ignored, despite being revised with stronger penalties. With no substantive enforcement action to curb the sale of dog meat, it remains available in restaurants throughout the country. The number of registered restaurants featuring bosintang (a traditional dog meat stew) numbered 6,484 in 1998; however, the government has estimated that there are actually well over 20,000 such restaurants, counting those that are unregistered.5
Akin to the abysmal manner in which pigs and chickens are raised for meat in factory farms, dogs raised for meat in South Korea endure miserable living conditions. From birth to slaughter, these dogs are kept in cramped rusty, cages stacked on top of each other. The method of slaughter is usually extremely (and even intentionally) brutal, and the dogs are often butchered in full view of the others.
Most horrifically—due to a traditional belief that high adrenaline levels will produce tender meat and increase the supposed health benefits—dogs who are killed may be intentionally subjected to extreme fear and suffering and be killed via bludgeoning, hanging, or electrocution. At the open-air markets, dogs are often electrocuted and their necks are broken—all in plain sight to passers-by and the other dogs.
Hundreds of thousands of dogs are slaughtered for meat each year in the Philippines.6 The dog meat trade is primarily centered in the city of Baguio, in the northern Luzon Island province of Benguet. Historically, it was associated with celebratory events and rituals of mourning and only affected a small number of dogs. However, in recent decades, the dog meat trade has rapidly increased for commercial rather than cultural reasons.
Inhumane Treatment During Transport and Slaughter
Stray dogs are rounded up off the street and shipped up to six hours to the Benguet province in extremely inhumane conditions without food or water. Steel cans are forced onto their noses and their legs are tied behind their backs. Many of the dogs are people’s pets—some are still wearing collars around their necks. Due to the stressful transportation methods, nearly half the dogs die before they reach their final destination. Sometimes 90 percent of the dogs die.7 Mortality rates are of no concern to the dog meat traders because the dead animals are processed along with the live ones. Behind closed doors, dogs are clubbed, their throats are cut, their fur is scorched off with a blow-torch, and their bodies are dismembered.
Human Health Implications of the Dog Meat Trade
Consuming dog meat puts individuals at risk of infection from such deadly parasites as E. Coli 107 and salmonella (commonly found in contaminated meats), as well as at risk of contracting other serious and potentially deadly bacterial diseases such as anthrax, brucellosis, hepatitis, and leptospirosis.8 Dog meat is additionally linked to the spread of rabies, a disease that kills approximately 10,000 dogs and 350 people per year in the Philippines.9 Evidence shows that rabies is present and potentially transmitted throughout all stages of the dog meat industry—sourcing, trading, slaughtering, and consumption—impeding efforts towards eradicating rabies in the region. The World Health Organization promotes mass dog vaccination campaigns and controlling trade in and movement of dogs as key components for dog rabies control and eventual elimination. The Philippines has an objective of eliminating rabies by 2020, a target that cannot be achieved unless the dog meat trade is eradicated—a fact that lawmakers understood when they included a prohibition in the trade of dog meat in the 2007 Rabies Act.
The killing and selling of dogs for food was banned in the capital city of Manila in 1982. A similar ban was enacted nationally in 1998, with the Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act No. 8485). The Act prohibits killing dogs for food, with minimum penalties set at 1,000 pesos (equivalent to about $US22 at the time) and not less than six months in prison. The Anti-Rabies Act (RA 9482), passed in 2007, includes more severe penalties, with minimum fines of 5,000 pesos per dog and not less than one year of imprisonment for trading in dogs for meat. Despite the sanctions encoded in the law, however, law enforcement officials do little to stop this illegal trade.
Stepping Up Enforcement
In order to successfully ban the trade in dogs for human consumption, mechanisms to enforce the national law should be established at the provincial, municipal, and village level in key areas where the dog meat industry continues to thrive. It is crucial to work with local communities to raise awareness of the risks the dog meat industry poses to both human health and animal welfare, and for local law enforcers to be equipped with the skills, knowledge, and motivation to enforce existing laws.
1. History (n.d.) Retrieved April 19, 2016, from http://koreananimals.org/about/history/
2. Kim, R. (2008). Dog meat in Korea: A socio-legal challenge.Animal Law, 14, 201–236, at 202. Retrieved from https://www.animallaw.info/sites/default/files/lralvol14_2_201.pdf
3. Kim, 2008, at 203, note 8.
4. Kim, R. (2007, July). Dog meat in Korea: A legal analysis. In K.S. Shin and H. Chang (Eds.) Proceedings of the 5th Biannual KSAA Conference, Enlightening Korea: Converging or Diverging? (pp. 150–162, 151). Retrieved from https://koreanstudiesaa.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/ksaa05-2007.pdf
5. Kim, 2007, at 153.
6. Media Affairs and Public Relations Service, House of Representatives of the Philippines. (2013, Feb. 10). Solon proposes stiffer penalties for slaughter of man's best friend [press release]. Retrieved from http://www.congress.gov.ph/press/details.php?pressid=6798
7. Dog Meat Trade (n.d.) Retrieved April 19, 2016, from https://networkforanimals.org/campaigns/dog-meat-trade/
8. Sirius Global Animal Charitable Trust. (2007). International ban on dog meat products [report submitted to the World Health Organization]. Retrieved April 19, 2016, from http://www.siriusgao.org/submission/Submission%20-%20International%20Ban%20on%20Dog%20Meat%20Products%204.pdf
9. Clifton, M. (2015, March 18). More medical warnings link dog meat to rabies. Retrieved April 19, 2016, from http://www.animals24-7.org/2015/03/18/more-medical-warnings-link-dog-meat-to-rabies/