South Korea’s Animal Protection Laws

South Korea adopted its first rudimentary Animal Protection Law on May 7, 1991. This initial law broadly defined the responsibility of animal caretakers and owners to properly feed, house, and care for their animals. It also prohibited animal cruelty and inhumane slaughter in very general terms, and described procedures for handling abandoned animals. Finally, the new legislation encouraged researchers to use the least cruelty possible in animal testing, but it avoided a concrete description of what the “least cruelty” might mean in practice. Though the 1991 Animal Protection Law was a step in the right direction, its language was so vague and its punitive measure so minimal that it was largely unenforceable.

From its founding year, IAKA made one of its principal goals to strengthen this law with more precise language and tougher punishments. Finally, on January 26, 2007, the South Korean government restructured the Animal Protection Law, imposing harsher penalties for animal abuse and adding clearer definitions of animal care, management, and cruelty. The revised law introduced legislation aimed at increasing pet owner responsibility, improving conditions for animals sold by retailers, and reducing the number of abandoned animals. It also further defined the humane slaughtering and transportation of livestock, restricted animal experimentation, and made provisions for government-run animal protection facilities and education. This new, more enforceable legislation went into effect on January 27, 2008, following a one-year grace period that allowed pet owners and businesses to adjust to the new regulations.

On June 29, 2011, South Korea once again amended its Animal Protection Law. The recent amendments called on the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) to establish a national animal welfare committee, coordinate animal protection committees at shelters, and report on animal welfare conditions annually. It stipulated that all animal testing should be approved by an ethics committee, and it required humane methods to be used in the transportation and euthanasia of animals. The law also imposed even greater punishment for violation of animal protection laws—punishment increased from 5 million KRW or six months in jail to 10 million KRW or one year in jail. Just four months after these amendments took effect, MIFAFF approved yet another amendment establishing even harsher punishments for those who violate the law’s humane transportation requirements.


The Questionable Legality of the Dog Meat Industry

For a brief period between 1975 and 1978, dogs had the full legal status of livestock animal in South Korea, but ever since then the legality of the dog meat trade has been highly disputed.

Under MIFAFF’s Livestock Industry Act, dogs are classified as livestock animals. Specifically, the Act states that breeding dogs as livestock animals is legal. But MIFAFF’s purview is limited mostly to live animals, and the Livestock Industry Act doesn’t specify for what purpose dogs can be bred. The law doesn’t directly state, for example, that dogs can only be bred for sale as pets.

In seeming contradiction to the Livestock Industry Act, the Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act does not define dogs as livestock or animals for consumption. This means that there aren’t any laws dictating the slaughter and butchery of dogs for human consumption. The Ministry of Environment also doesn’t recognize dogs as livestock in its Sewage Disposal and Livestock Waste Water Treatment Law.

In an attempt to close the regulation loopholes created by these discrepancies, the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) put forward that animals not recognized as livestock by the Processing Law should fall under the jurisdiction of the Sanitation Law. But another gray area loomed because the Sanitation Law defined food as “anything edible, except medicine,” and the KFDA didn’t see dog meat as falling within this definition.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) has put into place laws that make the sale and manufacture of dog meat illegal, but these laws are rarely enforced. Likewise, South Korea’s Animal Protection Act of 2007 states, “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 prohibited. But these laws often go unenforced when it comes to the dog meat industry.

Ever since South Korea’s first Animal Protection Law passed, a number of politicians and pressure groups have attempted to push forward amendments that would legitimize the dog meat trade. At the same time, animal protection groups against dog meat have been fighting to ban the industry completely. So far, neither pro-dog meat interests nor anti-dog meat groups have been successful. Still, no laws have been passed completely illegalizing every aspect of the dog meat industry. So dog meat farming, butchery, and consumption continue in a legal gray area.

Animal Protection Law

Reasons for Revision/Main Points 1991 Version | 2007 Version | Related Laws