South Korea bans dog meat trade as animal welfare attitudes shift

South Korea’s parliament passed a bill that will make it illegal to breed, slaughter and sell dogs for human consumption — a victory for animal rights groups that had been fighting for years for the change.

The near-unanimous vote Tuesday in favor of the bill — 208 lawmakers in the National Assembly voted in favor and two abstained — highlights the cultural and political shift in South Korea around dog meat consumption and the industry that underpins the practice. Once a mainstream menu item, dog meat has increasingly fallen out of favor as pet ownership has risen and concerns over animal welfare have been more widely adopted.

In a Gallup Korea survey conducted in 2022, more than 60 percent of South Koreans viewed the consumption of dog meat unfavorable. Only 8 percent had eaten dog meat in the previous year, down from 27 percent in 2015. The shift has been particularly pronounced among younger generations.

After the National Assembly vote on Tuesday, activists celebrated the bill’s passage as a historic moment for the country. “I never thought I would see in my lifetime a ban on the cruel dog meat industry in South Korea,” JungAh Chae, executive director of Humane Society International Korea, said in a statement. “We reached a tipping point where most Korean citizens reject eating dogs.”

But some dog farmers told the Associated Press they planned to challenge the bill in South Korea’s constitutional Court.

Under the bill, a ban on trading dog meat will be enforced starting in 2027. After that, slaughtering dogs for consumption could lead to penalties of up to three years in prison or 30 million South Korean won, about $22,800, in fines. Breeding and selling dogs for human consumption could be punishable by up to two years in prison or a fine of 20 million won, about $15,200. The bill does not make eating dog meat a crime.

Businesses that breed, slaughter and sell dogs will be eligible for government compensation when they submit a plan to local authorities outlining how they plan to shut down their operations or transition to another industry. Rights groups such as Humane Society International Korea have helped dog farmers transition to growing crops, such as blueberries, medicinal herbs or parsley.

Groups representing dog farmers opposed the bill, arguing that a ban would deprive them of their livelihoods and infringe on people’s rights. Some South Koreans continue to eat dog meat, especially on the hottest days of summer, known as “Boknal,” when some believe that consuming dog meat dishes such as “bosintang” soup is good for the body.

Son Won Hak, a farmer and former leader of a farmers’ association, told the Associated Press the bill was “a clear case of state violence as they are infringing on our freedom to choose our occupation.” He told the AP dog farmers will file a petition challenging the bill’s constitutionality.

Joo Young-bong, head of the Korea Dog Meat Farmers’ Association, told The Washington Post in November, when the bill was first proposed, that it was “unviable.” “Transitioning off our lifelong job is a difficult and unsustainable option for us farmers in 60s or 70s,” he said.

South Korea unveils plan to ban dog meat by 2027

There are 1,156 registered dog farms in South Korea and 1,666 restaurants that sell dog meat each year, according to government data cited by the Korea Times. Groups representing breeders and farmers say the true numbers are two to three times higher. Past efforts to outlaw dog meat in South Korea have failed in part due to opposition from the industry. A protest against the bill organized by the Korea Dog Meat Farmers’ Association in November near the presidential palace in Seoul turned chaotic, with some protesters confronting police, according to Reuters.

But animal rights groups say public attitudes have changed — in part because more South Koreans now own dogs as pets and feel more strongly about protecting them. According to the Agriculture Ministry, 3.02 million dogs were kept as pets in South Korea in 2022, up from 1.3 million in 2018.

As The Post previously reported, the bill was also backed by South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, and his wife, first lady Kim Keon Hee, who are known as animal lovers and own several dogs and cats. Kim attended an animal rights event in August and said that “dog meat consumption should come to an end … in an era when humans and pets coexist as friends.”

Min Joo Kim and Andrew Jeong contributed to this report.

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