Warning: This week’s Dateline story “Korea’s Dog Fight” is likely to repulse.
Are dogs livestock or pets? Why is it wrong or right to eat dog meat? These contradicting perspectives have been creating a cultural divide in South Korea between those who love dogs and those who love to eat them.
Millions of dogs are killed annually for the dog meat trade in South Korea during BokNal festival*, also known as dog eating festival.
This Tuesday, Dateline reporter Dean Cornish is in South Korea during BokNal to investigate the war over the cultural practice as animal rights activists rail against eating dogs, and dog-meat devotees dig in their toes – asserting their right to enjoy ‘traditional cuisine’.
While young globetrotting and dog-loving Koreans want to do away with this practice, it’s not an easy feat to achieve as eating dog meat is not only a tradition, it’s a billion dollar industry. At present, the industry is facing the greatest threat in the form of two bills before parliament – to reclassify dogs from livestock to companion pets and make it illegal to slaughter dogs for human consumption.
Dr Lee Sang Dong, the lawmaker responsible for taking the dog-meat battle to parliament reveals, “We have noticed unprecedented phenomenon of dog farming, is actually a dog hell. If the National Assembly passes my bill, the dog farms will lose the status of farms and their operations will become unlawful by Christmas”.
Despite the uprising protests, dog farmers and sellers are fighting for the survival of the industry. The president of Meat Dog Association, Kim Jong Suk reveals that banning of dog meat industry will have a huge effect on the society. “There are a million people working in this industry. How will you create a million new jobs and protect them?”
In the heart of Gimpo, also known as Dog Valley, Nami Kim provides shelter to rescued dogs. She gave up job as a university professor to become one of the first Koreans to work shutting down dog farms. “I’m one of the first ones to let the world know about what’s happening in Korea when it comes to what they call ‘meat dog’. A dog is a dog, there is no such thing as a meat dog or a pet dog”, Nami tells Dateline.
The dogs rescued by Nami are sent overseas for adoption as the local population are reluctant to adopt so-called meat dogs.
Farmer Kim Jong Il owns an industrial scale dog farm that complies with government regulations. He breeds several thousands of meat dogs annually and contradicts Nami’s beliefs, “Our meat dog is a different kind of breed, specifically developed to be served at the tables. We don’t see pet dogs as meat dogs”.
The fate of the dog meat industry in South Korea will be sealed by the end of this year, but it is becoming apparent that the dog meat debate is highly charged no matter what side you are on.
Tuesday, October 2 at 9.30pm on SBS.