South Korea is launching a taskforce to consider outlawing dog meat consumption after the country’s president offered to look into ending the centuries-old practice.
Restaurants that serve dog meat are dwindling in South Korea as younger people find it a less appetising dining option and pets are growing in popularity.
Recent surveys indicate more people oppose banning dog meat even if many do not eat it.
Seven government offices including the Agriculture Ministry said they decided to launch the group comprising officials, civilian experts and people from related organisations to deliver recommendations on possibly outlawing dog meat consumption.
It said authorities will gather information on dog farms, restaurants and other facilities while examining public opinion.
The statement noted that “public awareness of their basic rights and animal rights issues are tangled in a complicated manner” when it comes to dog meat.
Public opinion suggests “people have negative views both about eating dogs and legally banning it”, it added.
The government says the initiative does not necessarily guarantee a ban, and the vague stance drew quick protests from dog farmers and animal rights activists.
Farmers say the taskforce’s launch is a formality to shut down their farms and dog meat restaurants, while activists argue the government’s announcement lacks resolve to outlaw dog meat.
Ju Yeongbong, general secretary of an association of dog farmers, accused the government of “trampling upon” the people’s right to eat what they want and farmers’ right to live.
Lee Won Bok, head of the Korea Association for Animal Protection, called the government’s announcement “very disappointing” because it did not include any concrete plans on banning dog meat.
About 1 million to 1.5 million dogs are killed each year for food in South Korea, a decrease from several million about 10-20 years ago.
Thousands of farmers raise about 1 million to 2 million dogs for meat, according to the association of dog farmers.
Ju said the farmers, mostly poor, elderly people, want the government to temporarily legalise dog meat consumption for about 20 years, with the expectation that demand will gradually taper off.
Lee said animal rights organisations want a quicker end of the business.
“South Korea is the only developed country where people eat dogs, an act that is undermining our international image,” Lee said. “Even if the K-pop band BTS and the (Korean drama) Squid Game are ranked number one in the world, foreigners are still associating South Korea with dog meat and the Korean War.”
Lee accused many farmers of animal cruelty and other illegal activities when they raise and slaughter their dogs. Ju said activists “exaggerated” such information, and it only applies to a small number of farms.
According to Lee, dogs are also consumed as food in North Korea, China and Vietnam.
In September, President Moon Jae-in, a dog lover, asked during a meeting with his prime minister “if it’s time to carefully consider” a ban of dog meat, sparking a new debate.
Dog meat is neither legal nor explicitly banned in South Korea.