South Korea’s historic parliamentary vote to ban dog meat sparks controversy

President Yoon Suk Yeol, an outspoken advocate for animal welfare, and First Lady Kim Keon Hee, who has actively criticized dog meat consumption, have both pushed for a ban.

South Korea’s parliament is about to vote to phase out the centuries-old tradition of eating and selling dog meat, which could reshape cultural practices and redefine the nation’s stance on animal welfare. This contentious practice, based on historical beliefs that eating dog meat improves stamina in the humid Korean summer, has declined in recent years.

Changing societal attitudes toward dogs as beloved family pets, combined with increased condemnation of inhumane slaughtering practices, has propelled the country to a potentially historic decision.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, an outspoken advocate for animal welfare, and First Lady Kim Keon Hee, who has actively criticized dog meat consumption, have both pushed for a ban. Their public commitment to adopting a large number of stray dogs and cats demonstrates their commitment to promoting a more compassionate attitude toward animals.

The ruling party’s proposed legislation was approved by the bipartisan agriculture committee, paving the way for a crucial vote in the 300-member, single-chamber assembly. If the bill is passed, it will go into effect after a three-year grace period. Violations of the ban may result in up to three years in prison or fines of 30 million won (US$22,900).

Humane Society International Korea’s Borami Seo emphasized the bill’s potential impact, stating, “The bill would put an end to the breeding and killing of dogs for human consumption.” We have reached a tipping point in our efforts to save millions of dogs from this cruel industry.”

A recent survey conducted by the Seoul-based think tank Animal Welfare Awareness, Research, and Education sheds more light on the changing attitudes of the Korean people. Over 94% of respondents stated that they had not consumed dog meat in the previous year, and approximately 93% stated that they would refrain from doing so in the future. This overwhelming anti-dog meat sentiment represents a broader societal evolution in line with growing global awareness of animal rights.

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The potential ban on the consumption of dog meat has its detractors and challenges. Previous attempts to prohibit the consumption of dog meat have been met with industry opposition, and the current bill attempts to address these concerns by compensating businesses involved in the trade. A group of about 200 dog breeders held a rally near the White House in November, demanding that the bill be repealed.

According to the agriculture ministry, as of April 2022, approximately 1,100 farms were breeding 570,000 dogs for approximately 1,600 restaurants.

According to the Korean Association of Edible Dogs, which represents breeders and sellers, the ban will affect 3,500 farms with 1.5 million dogs and 3,000 restaurants. The ban’s potential consequences go beyond cultural traditions and into the livelihoods of those involved in the dog meat trade. The results of the parliamentary vote have the potential to reshape not only cultural practices, but also the economic landscape for breeders, sellers, and restaurants.