Is the dog meat trade legal?

The dog meat trade operates in a legal gray area. Laws around the legality of using dogs as livestock animals are ambiguous. Different agriculture, food, and sanitation laws vary on their definition of whether dogs qualify as a livestock animal. This legal ambiguity and the government’s lax enforcement of animal protection and sanitation laws allow the dog meat trade to continue. For more information on the legal issues surrounding the dog meat trade, see our page on Korea’s Animal Protection Law. [“ANIMAL PROTECTION LAW” SHOULD LINK TO THE “ANIMAL PROTECTION LAW” PAGE]


2.      Why does IAKA oppose eating dog, cat, and bear food products, but remain quiet about other animal farming? What is the difference between eating a dog and eating a cow, for example?

IAKA cares about all animals and would prefer that no animal be harmed to make products for human consumption. In fact, our founder, Kyenan Kum, has made the commitment to be vegan, avoiding all animal products and animal-tested products for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. However, IAKA also realizes that humanity’s journey toward humaneness can only happen one step at a time. So we’ve chosen to focus our energies on one of the more urgent and eradicable instances of animal cruelty—cruelty inflicted on companion animals and endangered species in South Korea.

Another reason we’ve zeroed in on the dog, cat, and bear product trades is that South Korea is simply not at a stage to introduce more substantive animal protection. A great deal of ignorance and misinformation pervades Korean culture around animal welfare and care. Attitudes toward cats and dogs are finally beginning to shift, especially in younger generations, and IAKA is taking this opportunity to further a culture of animal rights in South Korea.

Also, cultural dietary habits aside, ending South Korea’s livestock trade all together would be extremely challenging because of the country’s economic dependence on the industry. Even though the dog and cat meat trades represent a relatively small portion of South Korea’s livestock industry, they are hard to root out because so many depend on these businesses for their living. South Korea’s economic dependence on traditional livestock animals is so substantial as to make meat and dairy farming nearly impossible to uproot.

Finally, IAKA openly admits to being speciesist. Traditionally, humans have raised herbivore herd animals as livestock, while they’ve domesticated dogs and cats as companion and work animals. As a result of our historical relationship with cats and dogs, these animals have taken on a special place in our lives. Dogs earned the moniker of “man’s best friend” for good reason: they are loyal and empathetic to their owners. While the arguments behind speciesism may seem specious to some, these naysayers can easily find examples of speciesism in their own attitudes were they to take a closer look. Would you feel worse about stepping on a cockroach or running over a cat with your car?


3.      Wouldn’t it be best if animal advocates supported the legalization of dog meat so the government could better regulate issues of sanitation, management, transportation, and slaughter?

IAKA opposes the legalization of dog meat full stop. We believe that legalizing dogs and cats as livestock, food, and medicine will only grow these industries, thereby increasing the country’s economic dependency these inhumane trades. If South Korea were to completely legitimize dog and cat meat, it would be one of the only developed nations to do so. As a rapidly developing nation, South Korea has a responsibility to bring its animal protection policies up to speed with other developed nations.


4.      What right does the international community have to try to dictate what South Koreans eat? In South Korea, dog, cat, and bear meat products are used in traditional foods and medicines. Aren’t foreigners overstepping their bounds when they try to tell South Koreans to change their traditions?

Though there is a documented history of dog meat consumption in South Korea, dog meat was only a mainstay of the Korean diet during the Korean War, when widespread famine forced the population to seek alternative food sources. Also, though the medicinal benefits of dog meat were first mentioned in Her Joon’s sixteenth-century medical encyclopedia, these supposed benefits were only recently hyped by dog meat traders in reaction against foreign protest during the 1988 Olympics. As foreign criticism of the practice intensified, the dog meat industry began fervently advertising dog meat as a traditional food to stoke nationalistic resistance to any foreign interference with the trade. So in IAKA’s view, dog and cat meat and broth are not truly traditional foods or medicines.

It’s also important to consider the question of how the international community reacts to other issues of animal abuse, environmental endangerment, and civil rights abuses. When another country’s culture considers it normal to bring a species nearer to extinction, pollute the environment, or treat any segment of its with inhumanity, does not the international community feel compelled to become involved? Is it enough to justify inhumanity by excusing it as a tradition or cultural norm?


5.      Is animal cruelty endemic to South Korean culture? Do all Koreans abuse animals?

In one word: no. Only a small portion of South Koreans actually eat dog meat regularly, and most of these regular dog meat eaters are older men. According to a 2004 survey by Marketing and Opinion Research International, 55% of Korean respondents believed that dogs shouldn’t be used for food. In another study, an even larger percentage of Koreans under 30 said they would never eat dog meat and they believed dogs should be used as pets not food.

The more pervasive issue in South Korea is that there are widespread misconceptions about dogs and cats. Many Koreans believe that purebred and miniature dogs are the only dogs suitable to be pets and that cats are equivalent to vermin. But even those who hold these misconceptions don’t usually participate in cruelty toward animals.


6.      Countless farmers, traders, butchers, and restaurant workers rely on the dog meat industry for income. Most of the workers involved in this brutal trade are uneducated and unskilled, and they have few alternatives to their current work. How do you suggest addressing the issue of economic dependence?

IAKA doesn’t claim to have a complete plan for transitioning those who depend on the dog meat trade to another line of work. We do know, however, that the Korean government would need to play a major role in such a transition. The government would have to subsidize training programs that would teach dog meat workers new professions. The government would also have to offer former dog meat workers financial support during their training period. And, finally, the government would need to assist in placing former dog meat workers once they’d completed their training.


7.      I live in South Korea. How should I report animal cruelty?

The most important part of effectively reporting animal cruelty is documentation. Take photos, jot down a description of what you’ve seen, and write down the address where the abuse is taking place. Bring your documentation and a copy of South Korea’s Animal Protection Law in Hangul [LINK “SOUTH KOREA’S ANIMAL PROTECTION LAW” TO THE APL IN HANGUL ON AN EXTERNAL SITE] to your local police station or animal protection organization. If you witness someone hanging a dog, contact the police right away. Dog hangings are listed as illegal in the current animal protection law.

IAKA works to make large-scale change through international campaigning, but it does not deliver direct service within South Korea.


8.      I’m an expat living in South Korea, and I’d like to put my pet up for adoption. Do you help coordinate adoptions?

IAKA coordinates petitions and protests and cultivates international awareness of the dog, cat, and bear product trades in South Korea. We do not coordinate pet adoptions, rescue animals, or offer veterinarian care.

For foreign nationals in South Korea, post or browse adoption listings on the Animal Rescue Korea (ARK) website. ARK’s website also hosts a directory of vet clinics in South Korea.


9.      Can I volunteer for IAKA?

IAKA is an advocacy non-profit based in Oakland, California. So, unfortunately, we can’t offer you any direct service volunteer opportunities in South Korea. If you’re interested in helping IAKA with its campaigns, visit our “What You Can Do” page. 

If you’re more interested in volunteering at a shelter, adoption facility, or vet clinic in South Korea, visit the websites of Korea Animal Rights Advocates, Korea Animal Protection and Education Society, and Animal Rescue Korea.