South Korea to launch task force on banning dog meat

South Korea said Thursday it will form a task force to look into a ban on dog meat consumption after the country’s president offered to consider ending the centuries-old practice.

Dog meat restaurants are dwindling in South Korea as young people find dog meat a less appetizing option to eat and the popularity of pets increases. Recent surveys indicate that more people are against banning dog meat even if not many people eat it.

In a statement, seven government offices including the Ministry of Agriculture said they had decided to launch the group that includes officials, civic experts and individuals from relevant organizations to make recommendations on a ban on dog meat consumption. She said authorities will gather information on dog farms, restaurants and other facilities while examining public opinion.

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Dogs in a cage at a dog meat farm in Siheung, South Korea, February 23, 2018 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

“Due to the rapid rise in the number of families with pets and the growing public interest in animal rights and welfare in our country, there have been increasing voices saying that it is now difficult to see the consumption of dog meat as just a traditional food culture,” Prime Minister Kim Bo-kyeom said, The country’s second official, before issuing the statement.

The government says the initiative, the first of its kind, does not necessarily guarantee a ban on dog meat. The joint statement noted that “public awareness of the fundamental right (eat preferred foods) and animal rights issues are intricately intertwined” when it comes to dog meat consumption.

This seemingly ambiguous position sparked swift protests from dog farmers and animal rights activists.

South Korean animal rights activists stage a rally against South Korean culture of dog eating near the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, July 16, 2020 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

Farmers say the launch of the task force is only a formality to shut down their farms and dog meat restaurants, while activists argue that the government’s announcement lacks the resolve to ban dog meat consumption.

Jo Young-bong, general secretary of the Dog Farmers Association, accused the government of “trampling” on the people’s right to eat what they want and the farmers’ right to subsistence.

Lee Won-bok, president of the Korea Animal Protection Association, called the government’s announcement “extremely disappointing” because it did not include any concrete plans on how to ban the consumption of dog meat.

“We are deeply suspicious of whether the government is determined to put an end to the consumption of dog meat,” Lee said.

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About 1 million to 1.5 million dogs are killed each year for food in South Korea, down from several million about 10-20 years ago. According to Joe, thousands of farmers currently raise between one and two million dogs for meat in South Korea.

Joe said farmers, mostly poor and elderly people, wanted the government to temporarily legalize dog meat consumption for about 20 years, with the expectation that demand would gradually decline. He told me animal rights organizations wanted a quicker end to the business.

“South Korea is the only developed country where people eat dogs, an act that undermines our international image,” Lee said. “Even if K-pop group BTS and (Korean drama) Squid Game rank number one in the world, foreigners still associate South Korea with dog meat and the Korean War.”

Lee accused several farmers of using animal cruelty and other illegal activities when they were raising and butchering their dogs. Joe said activists have “exaggerated” such information, and that it only applies to a small number of farms.

Members of the Korean Dog Meat Association eat dog meat during a rally in support of canine eating in front of the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, July 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

According to Lee, dogs are consumed as food in North Korea, China, and Vietnam, as well as in South Korea.

In September, President Moon Jae-in, a dog lover, asked during a meeting with the prime minister “whether it was time to carefully consider” a ban on dog meat consumption, sparking a new debate on the issue.

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Dog meat is neither legal nor expressly prohibited in South Korea.

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