The Dog Meat Trade
While most Westerners view dogs strictly as companion or working animals and find the practice of raising and slaughtering dogs for food strange and unsettling, a large number of people in South Korea as well as in China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, consume dog meat. What is considered “normal,” of course, is often a matter of cultural perspective—especially when it comes to culinary practices and taboos.
Extreme cruelty, however, cannot be dismissed as merely a matter of cultural norms. The sad fact is that in many places where dog meat is consumed, the dogs raised for food commonly endure a lifetime of abuse and often are slaughtered in a manner that is nightmarish in its brutality. This is especially true in South Korea and the Philippines.
Although there is evidence suggesting that dog meat consumption occurred in South Korea over a thousand years ago, the non-profit International Aid for Korean Animals claims that the practice is not one that is deeply embedded into the history and culture of South Korea: “Even during desperate times… the consumption of dog was not a dietary tradition. Like anywhere else, dog was eaten only as a last-ditch resort to avoid starvation. Then sometime in the last century the practice was taken up by a few older men for mythical health benefits regarding virility.”
Younger South Koreans tend to shy away from eating dogs, and the percentage of South Koreans who eat dog meat on a regular basis is believed to be relatively small. Nevertheless, 2 million dogs are purported to be killed for food every year in South Korea, and over 100,000 tons of dog meat are consumed annually. Among those who do consume the meat, consumption increases during South Korea’s scorching hot summers, as there is a belief that eating dog will keep one cool. This is particularly evident during Bok days, the three hottest days of the summer according to the lunar calendar.
Dog meat farms are scattered throughout the countryside, and the industry is estimated to be worth over US$200 million.1 The farms primarily raise a type of large, yellow, mixed-breed dog common in the region. The “farmed” yellow mixed-breed dogs are not the only dogs eaten, however—despite claims by some supporters of the industry. Abandoned pets are a common phenomenon in South Korea, and small, purebred dogs fall victim to the dog meat trade, as well, after they are unceremoniously dumped into the streets by owners who have grown tired of them. Such abandoned dogs are picked up by a collector, stuffed into tiny wire cages filled to capacity with other such dogs, and taken to Moran market—the largest dog meat market in the nation—and other smaller markets around the country to be slaughtered.
1. Kim, R. (2008). Dog meat in Korea: A socio-legal challenge. Animal Law, 14, 201–236. Retrieved from https://www.animallaw.info/sites/default/files/lralvol14_2_201.pdf
South Korean law is ambiguous on the legality of the dog meat trade and official efforts to reign in the trade have been half-hearted at best. One legal analyst concluded that “Despite the significance of the industry, there is no clear law governing the trade of dog meat. There is neither explicit recognition of dog meat as legitimate food, nor a clear ban on the sale or slaughter of dogs for food.” According to the South Korean non-profit, Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA), “It is technically illegal to process dogs like livestock and use dog meat as any kind of food product. However, it is not illegal to breed, or raise, or slaughter dogs for dog meat.”
South Korea’s Animal Protection Act of 2007 expressly prohibits some of the cruel methods used by people in the dog meat trade to handle and slaughter dogs. The law, however, is widely ignored, despite being revised with stronger penalties. With no substantive enforcement action to curb the sale of dog meat, it is available in restaurants throughout the country. In the late 1990s, a government survey estimated that well over 20,000 restaurants—counting those that were unregistered—offered dog meat. A similar number of such restaurants are believed to be in operation today.
Akin to the abysmal manner in which pigs and chickens are raised for meat in factory farms, dogs raised for meat in South Korea endure miserable living conditions. From birth to slaughter, these dogs are kept in cramped rusty, cages stacked on top of each other. The method of slaughter is usually extremely (and even intentionally) brutal, and the dogs are often butchered in full view of the others.
Most horrifically—due to a widely held belief that high adrenaline levels will produce tender meat and increase the supposed health benefits—many dogs who are killed are sadistically made to experience extreme fear and suffering prior to death. Dogs are commonly killed via bludgeoning, hanging, or electrocution. Many dogs are hung and then beaten to increase their fear and panic. Some even have a blow torch used on them while they are still alive to remove their hair. At the open-air markets, dogs are electrocuted and their necks are broken—all in plain sight to passers-by.
You Can Make a Difference for Korean Dogs
Many South Korean animal advocates see their nation’s hosting of the 2018 Winter Olympics as an opportunity to focus international light on the practice, and in so doing finally bring an end to the deplorable dog meat trade.
Please send letters to the South Korean ambassador, the President of South Korea, and the Secretary General of the United Nations urging South Korea to stop killing dogs for human consumption. You can send the letter to the addresses listed below or through the Compassion Index by clicking here. On the Compassion Index, you will find suggested talking points to include in your letter.
Honorable Ambassador Choi Young-jin
Embassy of the Republic of Korea
2450 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
His Excellency President Lee Myong-bak
1 Cheongwadae-ro, Jongno-gu
Republic of Korea
The Honorable Ban Ki-Moon
760 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
For more information and to lend your support to the fight to end the cruel dog meat trade, please visit the websites of the following organizations:
International Aid for Korean Animals
Korea Animal Rights Advocates
Korean Animal Protection and Education Society (in Korean)
Half a million dogs are slaughtered annually in the Philippines. The Philippine dog meat trade is primarily centered in the city of Baguio, in the northern Luzon Island province of Benguet. Historically, it was associated with celebratory events and rituals of mourning and only affected a small number of dogs. However, over the past 25 years, the dog meat trade has rapidly increased for commercial rather than cultural reasons.
Investigators have documented the existence of at least 25 dog meat restaurants and four slaughterhouses in Baguio, seven dog meat traders in Laguna and Batangas, and two slaughterhouses in Pangasinan. Unfortunately, there are many more underground entities involved in the industry throughout the Northern provinces.
Inhumane Treatment During Transport and Slaughter
Stray dogs are rounded up off the street and shipped up to six hours to the Benguet province in extremely inhumane conditions without food or water. Steel cans are forced onto their noses and their legs are tied behind their backs. Many of the dogs are people’s pets—some are still wearing collars around their necks. Due to the stressful transportation methods, nearly half the dogs die before they reach their final destination. Sometimes 90 percent of the dogs die. Mortality rates are of no concern to the dog meat traders because the dead animals are processed along with the live ones.
Behind closed doors, dogs are clubbed, their throats are cut, their fur is scorched off with a blow-torch, and their bodies are dismembered.
Human Health Implications of the Dog Meat Trade
A regional director of the Philippines National Meat Inspection Commission publicly stated that dog meat is not inspected by the Commission, and further called the consumption of dog meat “dangerous.”2 Consuming such meat puts individuals at risk of infection from such deadly parasites as E. Coli 107 and salmonella (commonly found in contaminated meats), as well as at risk of contracting other serious and potentially deadly bacterial diseases such as anthrax, brucellosis, hepatitis, and leptospirosis.
Dog meat is additionally linked to the spread of rabies, a disease that kills approximately 10,000 dogs and 300 people per year in the Philippines. Evidence shows that rabies is present and potentially transmitted throughout all stages of the dog meat industry—sourcing, trading, slaughtering, and consumption—impeding efforts towards eradicating rabies in the region. The World Health Organization promotes mass dog vaccination campaigns and “controlling trade in and movement of dogs” as key components for dog rabies control and eventual elimination. The Philippines has an objective of eliminating rabies by 2020, a target that cannot be achieved unless the dog meat trade is eradicated—a fact that lawmakers understood when they included a prohibition in the trade of dog meat in the 2007 Rabies Act.
The killing and selling of dogs for food was banned in the capital city of Manila in 1982. A similar ban was enacted nationally in 1998, with the Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act No. 8485). The Act prohibits killing dogs for food, with minimum penalties set at 1,000 pesos (equivalent to about $US22 at the time) and not less than six months in prison. The Anti-Rabies Act (RA 9482), passed in 2007, includes more severe penalties, with minimum fines of 5,000 pesos per dog and not less than one year of imprisonment for trading in dogs for meat. Despite the sanctions encoded in the law, however, law enforcement officials do little to stop this illegal trade.
The Philippine government has expressed a greater commitment of late to eradicating the dog meat trade. The Wildlife Division of the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (similar to the FBI in the United States) recently raided nine restaurants. The international non-profit Network for Animals (NFA), working in cooperation with local authorities, raided a slaughterhouse in Malasiqui, Pangasinan on December 5, 2012. Seven dog meat traders were arrested, 22 dogs were rescued, and 49 dog carcasses were confiscated. The local police, however, only got involved because NFA did the surveillance, provided the funding, and managed the raid. The police need to enforce the laws under their own initiative on a regular, widespread basis.
Stepping Up Enforcement
The illegal dog meat industry in the Philippines results in the physical and mental suffering of hundreds of thousands of dogs each year and comes at a significant cost to human health and potential damage to the Philippines’ reputation. In order to successfully ban the trade in dogs for human consumption, mechanisms to enforce the national law should be established at the provincial, municipal, and village level in key areas where the dog meat industry continues to thrive.
It is crucial to work with local communities to raise awareness of the risks the dog meat industry poses to both human health and animal welfare, and for local law enforcers to be equipped with the skills, knowledge and motivation to enforce existing laws. Our objective is to get the Department of Interior and Local Government to ensure that local governments and police in the dog meat regions consistently and aggressively enforce the national law, and make a serious effort to close down all dog meat operations.
2.. Carl Suller, C. May 28, 2003. Dog meat may be “deadly.” Sunstar.com, as quoted in Maynard, E., et al. 2007. Submission Supporting the Request for an International Ban on Dog Meat and Dog Meat Products. Submitted by Sirius Global Animal Charitable Trust, NGO with Special Consultative Status to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, to The World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Photo courtesy of Network for Animals (NFA)
Take action: Send a letter to the Philippines' president urging him to take strong action to enforce his country's laws against trade in dog meat. You can send the letter through the Compassion Index by clicking here. On the Compassion Index, you will find suggested talking points to include in your letter.