Dog and cat meat in South Korea is neither legal nor illegal but inhabits “a legal blind spot.”
Laws should have the expectation of rationality and logic, and not the appalling and confused and contradictory muddle that passes for South Korean laws relating to the dog meat industry. The seemingly unbridgeable fissure between these laws—referred to as the “legal blind spot”—not only raises the very question of what a dog is—livestock vs. non-livestock—but these laws in conflict with one another has created an ineffably mournful landscape of animal suffering.
In one of the strangest legal paradoxes worthy of a Kafkaian fable, under the Livestock Industry Act, dogs are classified as “livestock” under the Ordinance of the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MIFAFF)—which controls dog meat until pre-slaughter, where breeding dogs (for whatever purpose later on) is legal but its “product”—dog meat—is not. And according to Article 22 of the Livestock Act, dog farming is not considered a livestock farming business.
But at the same time, under the Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act that deals with the slaughter and distribution process of livestock, dogs are not classified as an animal for human consumption (or livestock) “except as otherwise provided for in this Act, the Food Sanitation Act shall apply to livestock products,” and the Food Sanitation Act applies to dog meat, considered a food under the law. But there are no laws or regulations on how to safely or humanely slaughter them.
Therefore, in an unfathomable legal riddle, the laws remain ambiguous as to the designation of dogs, who are bounced back and forth between “livestock” and “non-livestock.” In 1984, the Seoul city government classified dog meat as “repugnant food,” but it never took the ban seriously except when it was time to prepare for the Olympics. In advance of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Chun Doo Hwan drove dog restaurants out of central Seoul in fear that the international press would publicize them and embarrass the nation. Dogs were then excluded from the livestock classification because of concerns about a possible backlash from other countries, but the related law has not been properly revised.
As Dr. Tae-Yung Kim, Ph.D., director, General Animal Health Division, of MIFAFF, told IDA at a meeting at South Korean’s Gwacheon Government Complex, “there are no legal grounds for the practice of eating dogs in Korea. A vacuum exists in our legal framework.” MIFAFF does not recognize dog meat as legal while the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW), which controls dog meat post-slaughter, does.
Dr. Kim’s justification of a “vacuum” seems to be that any legal action at this point would certainly result in a backlash—the need to avoid a “clash of cultures”—but the government is in direct contravention of what the law mandates: though there is no specific clause related to dogs or eating dog meat, the Animal Protection Act of 2007, states, “An act of killing in a cruel way such as hanging” and “an act of killing in an open area such as on the street or in front of other animals of the same kind watching” are explicitly prohibited under Article 8 of the Animal Protection Act of 2007.
By not enforcing laws, the government—openly and unashamedly—is allowing rampant and egregious violations throughout the country at every level of the dog meat industry, from slaughtering to distribution. All stages of the food supply chain are tainted by illegality with a concomitant looming public health risk. By ignoring the Animal Protection Act, the government not only condones violations of animal law but also sets the stage for a catastrophic public health risk.
Dr. Kim acknowledged that animal protection is relatively new in South Korea and it is the time to focus on public health and hygiene issues. And as the government continues its torpor over the over the banning of dog meat consumption, the dog meat industry is likely to develop into an even bigger and more industrialized and profitable industry. South Korea, China, and Vietnam are the only countries that still have not banned dog meat consumption, and China is currently pushing for a law to that end. There isn’t a country in the world that has legalized the dog meat industry, nor developed a humane way of supplying dogs and cats for human consumption.
Because widespread fears have been raised around the distribution of sick and abandoned dogs as meat, shockingly unsanitary conditions, and inhumane killing methods during slaughter and distribution, the Korean Dog Meat Farmers Association, which has about 1,000 members, recently held its first public protest to demand dogs be included in the Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act; permit dog farms to register as livestock industry; and to have government support of an excrement handling facility (at present, the excreta aren’t collected)—in short, a cry for legalization of its industry. The farmers argued their livelihoods are being threatened by the government’s indifference, as well as the malicious slander by animal-protection groups.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) was quoted as saying, “It is difficult to accept the demand of the meat dog farmers because public opinion about dog meat is at a fierce standoff, and “we cannot accept their demand because government support signifies the acknowledgement of dog meat consumption” and “for the same reason we keep rejecting the request to establish the association as a legal entity.”
Animal-protection organizations have been demanding an end to the industry because of the monstrous abuse of dogs and cats, the potentially calamitous consequences of a public health disaster, and the significant trend toward reducing meat consumption. Pushing forward for legislation to ban the slaughter of dogs for consumption and the sale of dog meat must be included in the Animal Protection Act. In revising these laws to comport with one another, a bill to exclude dogs from the livestock classification in the Livestock Industry Act must happen, so the livestock industry that raises dogs for consumption becomes illegal and the debate about its product of dog meat and dog meat legalization can finally be moot. There are currently no punitive measures to penalize animal cruelty, torture, and abuse that define the multi-billion dollar black market of a dog and cat meat industry, without legal restrictions or taxes. Dog farm owners and dog and cat meat sellers work in a surprisingly systematic fashion to protect their so-called property rights.
There are two South Koreas; the dazzling country whose lofty financial status as one of the fastest growing economies in the world after years of devastation by the Korean War and Japanese occupation is nothing short of stunning and, tragically, just beneath the breathtaking progress, the sordid and shameful dog and cat meat industry about which the South Korean government hovers shockingly indolent.