Moran Market (Seongnam-city, Gyeinggi-do-province) conjures up any bustling farmers’ market—teeming with shoppers, talking and bargaining, all very lively. But on the days when the entire market is open—days that end in 4 and 9—more street vendors are on site, stationed beneath colorful umbrella stands (selling everything from veggies to clothes to housewares), and on these days the dog sellers congregate in front of 21 stores, distributing the most dog meat in South Korea, as well as the selling of so-called dog elixirs. This is the notorious “dog-meat market,” Seongnam-city’s infernal outdoor nightmare. Here, the other merchandise is for sale: cages and cages stuffed with chickens, ducks, roosters, black goats (extracts and soups), bunnies, kittens (medicinal extracts, stews, and soups) and the crush of so-called “meat” or yellow dogs (Nureongi), ubiquitous, in obscenely filthy cages, huddled up against one another, a few staring out with defenseless, stricken despair. Their desolation is voiceless and frozen, except when a dog is suddenly and violently pulled out from the cage, spreading a feeling of dread and agitation, and then the barking, and even howling, begins.
Amid the persistent lie of “meat” dogs vs. companion animals, “pet” dogs are mixed in with the “meat” dogs at many farms and markets. According to a television program that aired in South Korea in 2011, “South Korea’s Dangerous Health Food—Inconvenient Truth About Dog Meat,” undercover footage showed “pet” dogs being slaughtered behind Moran Market, where customers rarely go. The dogs are removed from the cage one at a time and killed. As a former dog trader says, “Pet dogs are cheaper because they are sold per dog and not by the pound. When you butcher them you can’t tell whether they are pet dogs or meat dogs.” Cocker Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Schnauzers, Malteses, and Beagles were among them. Restaurants that serve dog meat and gaesoju sellers (so-called health or stamina food) at Moran Market, and the “traditional” Gupo Market in Busan City, slaughter dogs who are displayed in front of their restaurants by request. The wastewater from the slaughtering goes directly into sewage.
Amid the rot and stink of the buying and selling, the weighing of dogs, the slaughtering in the back of stores, the blood everywhere, there is the unforgettable sound of a blowtorch removing fur. There are the chilling pairings of dog carcasses and prepared dog meat displayed everywhere on trays, right next to the cages of captive dogs who wait. There is a rottenness breathed with the air, mixed with the stench of urine and feces and fear. This side of Moran Market, across from the housewares, is a portrait of torture and murder, sellers and butchers and their prey.
The killings at Moran Market, like those at the farms and slaughterhouses, have all the earmarks of the cruelest and yet seemingly most ordinary business as usual. Dogs are killed with high-voltage electrocution, are hanged, beaten to death, strangled, and frequently have their throats slashed, because of the prevailing myth, fueled by profit, that the more suffering endured during slaughter, the more tender the meat and more potent the “medicinal” properties. Dogs are killed within sight of their doomed cage mates. After they are dead, or sometimes even still conscious, the ritual is the same everywhere: the dog is tossed into a tub of boiling water, bled out, then into a rotating drum for the removal of their fur, and finally blowtorched. A marketplace transmogrified—hideous scenes, repugnance, terror, a place without pity, illegal and yet sanctioned by inertia of the South Korean government.
Electrocuted, hanged, blowtorched, butchered—a blatant violation of South Korean law. “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 until Article 7(1) of the Animal Protection Act of 2007.
And then they are eaten in one of the 20,000 restaurants that serve dog meat or boshintang or dog meat soup (usually the bigger dogs), or gaesoju, a dog broth or so-called stamina food, made by boiling dog meat with herbs in pressure cookers and then the concentrate is packed and sold in individual packages by personal order at “health” stores or sold to individual customers. According to Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA), there are some 9,000 Gungangwon stores selling stamina or so-called health foods. These stores are registered under Korea Extraction Manufactured Food Association (KEMFA) under the Ministry of Health and Welfare; the stamina foods comprise approximately 1/3 of total dog meat.
Unlike dogs, cats are not farmed for their meat, but are stolen, surrendered, or picked up as strays and are a small presence at the markets. It was in the 1980s that cat-part products began to be advertised as having so-called curative properties and sold as remedies for rheumatism and arthritis, most famously for the knees. Approximately 100,000 cats each year are slaughtered for soup and goyangisoju or “health tonics.”
There isn’t a country in the world that has identified a humane way of supplying dogs and cats for human consumption, so butchers kill with frightening impunity in the most horrific fashion. Cats are bludgeoned and thrown into boiling water while conscious. Many have their legs broken so they can’t escape, and are often skinned alive. If you take an interest in a cat at Moran Market, the farmer might ask, “How do you want it to be?”—meaning, prepared as soup or porridge or as an extract, or do you want it alive?
According to KARA, “it is a tradition (and some say a very recent ‘tradition’ invented to make money) to perceive that cats are good for rheumatism and other ailments. This probably originated from people observing that cats are agile, and then applying the same kind of logic reminiscent of primitive tribes to conclude that ingesting a cat will aid agility. Of course, it is complete nonsense, but people still eat cat meat or drink the liquid tonic, goyangisoju, made from boiling a cat. The cats are boiled in pressure cookers. (Black goat tonic or heuk yomsoh). Cat killings are being done out of public view, so it’s very difficult to investigate the problem. This terrible and cruel abuse cannot be rooted out unless the eating of cat meat and the drinking of the cat tonic are treated as illegal. Apart from these abuses, cats and not well liked in Korea in general. A lot of superstitions surround them and abuse against them is almost automatic. Few stray cats will approach a human. They know all too well they could be attacked. Perhaps it’s a good thing they live in fear of humans, since they might survive longer that way.”
NIMBUS OF FORBODING: THE TRUCKS
Where do the dogs come from? Big blue trucks commonly invade rural areas with speakers blaring, “I buy dogs. I buy dogs,” and pack them so tightly together that can’t move. Many end up at Moran Market. People who see the rumbling trucks tell of the dread and fear experienced by the dogs and their terrible cries. Anyone can sell a stray, abandoned, or stolen dog for money. Sometimes families surrender their own dogs to the collectors as well as countryside residents selling their puppies to collectors or the market sellers (usually small, mixed breeds). And “meat” dog collectors—those who travel to residential areas to buy dogs at a bargain price—take pregnant dogs who give birth at the market or a farm. Sellers, traders, middlemen, and collectors—a well-functioning system of butchery—snatching up every dog they can get their hands on.
MORAN MARKET: DISAPPEARING?
Moran Market, the geographical heart of darkness for animals, might soon be part of the dustbin of history. Started in 1964, the merchants are having difficulty finding a new location. Open every fifth day, with 130,000 lively streaming crowds, the market must give up its space within the year. According to current South Korean law, five-day markets are exempt from the “Traditional Market” designation and there is no compensation for the loss of land. The market is temporarily opening on the covered road in the “Bogumzari,” meaning, “home,” housing project, which is also affecting the traditional designation. Seongnam-city is reviewing the relocation issue, but the cost is one hundred billion won (USD $90 million), which may be more than the city wants to pay. Some activists speculate that with the unwanted attention of the city for the wrong reasons—confrontations between dog traders and animal-protection groups, thousands of petitions, and ongoing campaigns, the city may want to let it go, at least for the dog traders. In short, the market is in flux and it appears no one wants to pay. It could vanish into history, but it would surprise no one if the dog traders and butchers gather their goods and ferret out another location.
MORAN MARKET INVESTIGATION
Recently, there was a widespread Seongnam-city investigation of dog slaughter and sales conditions at Moran Market and several council meetings were held with directors and the deputy mayor presiding. A joint briefing session was also held at the mayor’s office by seven city departments, including the Local Economy (Animal Resources), River Maintenance, Water Quality Restoration, Joongwon-gu Borough Office Economy &Transportation, Environmental Sanitation, Construction and Building Department. Back in 2002, prior to the Korea-Japan World Cup, the city conducted a crackdown but it was considered more for show. But now, the city’s tone has changed: “While there are no legal provisions to ban the dog slaughter and sale, we can no longer sit idle and watch the city’s image being tarnished.”
During this investigation, the city conducted a detailed inspection of the conditions of dog storage and dog meat display and sales. The investigation found that the dog cages and the display shelves are occupying the road and the sidewalks without permission, and the vendors are displaying dog meat outside on market days causing people to feel “disgust.”
There were also suspicions that some vendors were disposing slaughter by-products in garbage bags, or letting part of it flow down the drain. Noises generated from the blowtorch during the slaughter process measured in excess of 60dB in the adjacent residential areas of these businesses.
But because dog and cat meat in South Korea is neither legal nor illegal but inhabits “a legal blind spot,” it is difficult for the city to impose any real controls. Even though the city has examined various legal provisions such as the Animal Protection Act Section 8 (Prohibition of Mistreatment of Animals), Water Quality and Ecosystems Conservation Act Section 33 (Wastewater Discharge Standard), Sewerage Act Section 2 (Sewage Treatment Area), Waste Control Act Section 8 (Prohibition of Waste Dumping), Noise and Vibration Control Act Section 21 (Standard Noise Control) Offensive Odor Prevention Act Section 8 (Offensive Odor Emission Facility), it could not find grounds to impose a crackdown.
Accordingly, Seongnam-city has decided to tackle the issue of “disgust feeling” first and demanded that vendors voluntarily remove the dog cages from the street and the sidewalks to which the Moran Livestock Merchant Association said “the removal of dog cages will directly affect our livelihood. If this crackdown is enforced, we will respond aggressively.”
The Association said further that “intestines are boiled and disposed of as food waste, several places have reduced noises by installing panels, odors are eliminated by administering EM (Effective Microorganism) culture fluid, and slaughtering is being done behind the screen using electrocution, so there is no animal cruelty.”
Of course electrocution is horribly cruel because the dogs do not die right away.
Gang-Choon Lee, the president of Moran Livestock Merchant Association, stated, “Dog cages are located in spaces not used by people and singling us out while other businesses are doing the same is not fair to us.”
President Lee argued, “With the 40-year history of Moran Market, if dog meat was to be missing, it’s like tradition is disappearing. If the city insists on a crackdown, it should offer us a fair compensation to induce closure of our businesses. It is not right to treat us as if we are criminals using the excuse of a crackdown.”