Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Guardian on reclassifying dog meat as livestock

Ah, the decades-old issue of Koreans eating dog meat. It's a testy issue because so much of the discussion touches on emotional topics of raising pets, national pride, animal cruelty, and lashing out at entire nations for the actions of a segment of the population.

Eating dog meat is a practice that a sizable segment of the South Korean population (mostly male, but not necessarily most males) engages in on an occasional basis. Some do quite often, most who do it only do it occasionally, and many have done it only once or twice, but never again. Millions more have never done it at all and even find it distasteful. In that sense, I suppose, it's a lot like pot smoking in the US (except for the gender differential).

South Koreans are not the only population where dog meat is not an unusual thing, though for some reason South Korea in particular has been tagged with this practice, especially when it comes to ridiculing the practice or shaming the country. "Mr Kim's coming. Hide the dog" is an old joke in California. In fact, dog-eating Koreans has arguably risen to the level an ethnic slur in the US.

But back to South Korea. The problem isn't just one of international perceptions, but one of local governance, and the two are related. Back in the 1980s, the United Kingdom reportedly considered boycotting the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul because of the legality of eating dog meat. The ROK government response was to ban the consumption of canine. On paper, at least, it was illegal.

But of course it continued. That's the case with many things in South Korea, some of which are illegal and tolerated without regulation (e.g., dog meat consumption, abortion), some of which are illegal and tolerated with government intervention (e.g., prostitution).

You can see the difference in public health concerns that emanate from the two different tacks. Prostitution is regulated to a high degree: condom use is widely enforced, underage males are kept out of red-light districts, and women are routinely checked for STDs. On the other hand, abortions are typically performed by people with no specific training for that procedure nor with equipment designed for it. And that brings us to dog meat.

Dog meat producers operate in the shadows, without enforcement of health standards that a legitimate food producer would be subject to. This can lead to animal cruelty, pathogens ingested by consumers, and a host of other problems. Essentially, there are two solutions to that problems: completely eradicate it or legalize and regulate it.

But the problem lies in that attempts to legalize and regulate are shouted down by a growing presence of animal rights groups in South Korea, who are joined by the chorus of usual suspects outside of South Korea who jump at the chance to paint South Koreans as a barbaric people for allowing consumption of dog meat. Scared by the controversy and wary of bad press internationally, policymakers simply maintain the status quo. And thus animal cruelty and questionable production practices are allowed to continue.

I've read of people, particularly in the UK, saying that their countrymen should boycott LG, Samsung, Hyundai, etc., because South Koreans eat dog. As if there's a reasonable connection between corporate Korea and the gastronomical proclivities of some members of the ROK citizenry. This kind of thing has got to stop because it's doing more harm than good. Forget for a moment the hypocrisy of any carnivore who opposes the consumption of dog meat essentially because canines are "man's best friend; this vocal opposition is preventing the very thing that needs to be done to protect the animals that are going to slaughter.

Imagine if abattoirs for cows or pigs had to operate away from the eyes of authorities: how much more dangerous would our meat supply be? It's the same as with dogs. Face facts: It's not going to go away, and it's not really worse than consumption of beef or pork, so let it operate safely and legally in the open.

Anyway, this rant was inspired by a piece I saw in the Guardian, where a Brit (I presume) living in Japan certainly seems to get it:
Following bouts of food poisoning attributed to eating dog meat – whose legal status occupies a sort of no man's territory - the local authority in Seoul has had enough of fudging the legal issues and says it will attempt to bring dogs bred for meat at last under the banner of "livestock".

It is also urging the central government to do the same across the whole country so South Koreans can rest assured that the meat they eat from canines will be safe and, hopefully, humanely reared and slaughtered. Under the current law, dogs are categorised in the same group as donkeys, rabbits, horses and deer, not as livestock such as cattle and chickens.

Apparently lawmakers have been dithering for decades over the move because of pressure from the dog meat business - more regulation will make dog meat more expensive - and from the animal rights activists, some of whom don't want Fido to be eaten in the first place.

South Koreans for the most part want to be left alone so they can enjoy a regular bowl of ''Mong-Mong Tang'' (literally ''woof-woof stew''). Even the president, Lee Myung-bak, is partial to it, and if dog does become classed as livestock and an existing South Korean law that safeguards the humane treatment of animals is enforced I can't see how anyone can complain. Western cooks regularly shish-kebab Bambi and Lambsy - an absolute affront to the mighty lobby for the cute in east Asia.
By "get it" I meant that he seems to understand the importance of regulating the raising of dogs for consumption, but it appears he seems to not know the full reason for all the "dithering for decades" about the issue.

Maybe The Korean can set him straight, especially since the Guardian writer has read what Ask a Korean has to say on the matter. My own views, by the way, in addition to those above, can be found here and here.

This post is linked to as an op-ed piece at the site for the Korea Animal Rights Activists (KARA).


  1. they should simply stop eating dog meat. period.

    I think askakorean wrote a pretty interesting post about the issue

  2. Okay, then. Think of some issue somewhere in which a disapproving majority effectively eradicated a practice enjoyed by a persistent minority, and then we'll see if we can apply that methodology to getting rid of kaegogi consumption in Korea.

  3. Kushi,
    Dog was eaten in Korea traditionally because Koreans were poor and needed to survive. Then they came up with their voodoo-science theory, nay, fact that if you torture the dog the meat will be more potent like some damned Rover Viagra.
    Fast forward to the present day and Koreans are getting slammed internationally for the practice, but are too proud to let the foreigners get them to stop doing something. It's like my neighbor...I ask him not to slam his gate, but he slams it anyway because he doesnt want me to control him. He could easily shut it quietly and it wouldnt take him more than a fraction of a second to do so (actually the whole damn family slams the gate).
    So, they make it illegal...wink wink...and all around the country are dog meat restaurants advertising dog meat.
    I believe that they should just seriously enforce the ban as part of brand imaging. See...we are developed now. We don't eat dogs anymore.
    My mother and my sister used to volunteer at a dog shelter in California and were told by the staff to be wary of Koreans looking to adopt larger dogs. Koreans need to step up and not be cartoon characters to the rest of the world.
    Years ago there was a small market in Shindang. I happened upon it back in '95. I wondered around the market and it started to rain. I went down one alley and there was a small cage with 2 large dogs inside. One dog had a tennis ball in its mouth. Through the tennis ball was a straightened out clothes hanger that was tied tight around the back of the dog's head. Blood and rain were streaming down the dog's face as the other dog licked his friend's wounds. The dog was in obvious pain and the look in his eye was frightening. I actually became scared and quickly left the market.
    (Reprinted as a post on my blog).

  4. Think of some issue somewhere in which a disapproving majority effectively eradicated a practice enjoyed by a persistent minority

    disapporving majority: Germans

    persistent minority: Jews

    practice enjoyed by persistent minority: continued existence

  5. The Koreans are quite self-conscious and insecure about themselves, so they are always worrying about their image and reputation. But ultimately they shouldn't care about what others think about their culinary habits. They should remain independent and continue consuming dog meat if they wish to do so.


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