25 April 2023

South Korean dog farmers protest after first lady’s comments on eating meat

25 April 2023

Dozens of dog farmers in South Korea have staged a rally to criticise the country’s first lady over her reported comments supporting a possible ban on dog meat consumption.

Eating dog is a centuries-old Korean practice but there have been growing calls to allow it in South Korea as animal rights campaigns have influenced public attitudes and eating dog meat has fallen out of favour with most younger people.

In late 2021, a government-civilian committee was launched to reach a social consensus on ending dog meat consumption but no breakthrough has been reported yet.

Farmers demanded authorities present more concrete compensation steps or allow them to maintain their businesses for about 15-20 years until older people, who are the main source of demand for the meat, die.

About 50 dog farmers gathered on Tuesday near the office of President Yoon Suk Yeol to protest against remarks made by his wife, Kim Keon Hee, during a private luncheon with animal rights activists earlier in April.

Some local media outlets reported that Ms Kim told activists that she would work towards an end to dog meat consumption for the duration of Mr Yoon’s term, which ends in 2027.

Dog farmers argued Ms Kim is not entitled to make such a policy promise because she is not a government official. They also accused her of undermining their rights to their livelihoods and happiness.

Mr Yoon’s office declined to confirm the contents of Ms Kim’s conversation with the activists because their luncheon was organised as a closed-door meeting.

Attendee Jo Hee Kyung, who heads the Korean Animal Welfare Association, said Ms Kim’s comments reported in the media were largely taken out of context.

She said Ms Kim did not discuss policies but rather expressed her personal hopes for the end of dog meat consumption during an informal meeting.

Ms Kim and Mr Yoon are known as pet lovers, with six dogs and five cats. Ms Jo said Ms Kim had long held interests in animal rights movements even before Mr Yoon became president in 2022.

But Ju Yeongbong, an official at an association of dog farmers, said he believes that animals rights activists were trying to cover up Ms Kim’s comments.

During the rally, farmers pumped their fists and chanted slogans demanding Ms Kim withdraw her reported comments and the government formulate steps to support the farmers. “Guarantee our livelihoods! Guarantee!” they shouted.

They said they later visited a police station to file complaints against Ms Kim for allegedly hurting their rights to maintain livelihoods, seek happiness and select jobs.

Chae IlTaek, an activist at the Korean Animal Welfare Association, called dog meat consumption “an anachronistic business” that should have been shut down.

About 1 million dogs are slaughtered for food annually in South Korea, a decrease from more than 3 million annually about 10-20 years ago, according to Mr Ju.

Dog meat is neither legally protected nor explicitly banned in South Korea. During election campaigning, Mr Yoon said he personally opposed dog meat consumption but formulating a policy on outlawing it would require a public consensus.

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