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As the outcry grows, dog meat sales decline

July 31,2007
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A customer chooses a dog to purchase at the Moran Market in Seongnam, south of Seoul, earlier this month. By Byun Ji-ae
The dog days of summer just aren’t the same.
“Bok days are not bok days anymore,” said Kim Jae-wook, who sells dog meat at the Moran Market in Seongnam, south of Seoul. “We don’t see customers. Not even a fly comes by.”
“Bok days” literally means the dog days of summer. According to the country’s traditional folk calendar, they come three times a year, marking the beginning, middle and end of the steaming hot weather. This year, the dog days are July 15, 25 and Aug. 14.
The tradition, on those days, is to eat dog meat or chicken soup. The idea is that those foods are healthy and fortify the body for the hot weather.
Still, the criticism of the traditional practice gets louder each year as a more Western way of thinking, which sees dogs as pets rather than food, continues to seep into Korean society.
This year, an attempt by ambitious businessmen to sell dog meat on an Internet shopping mall was cut short following a strong public outcry. The Internet Web site, e-bosin, closed temporarily on July 3.
“We opened the site because online dog meat businesses are unusual and we wanted to supply trustworthy and fresh dog meat to consumers at a lower price,” said Go Se-hoon, 26, owner of e-bosin. He and his partner, Jo Chang-geun, previously office workers, quit to concentrate on the new business.
They launched the Web site in April. At first, there were plenty of customers, Go said, adding that they were very satisfied with the convenient delivery system and the quality, price and taste.
The first challenge came 45 days after the site opened. Animal lovers started to protest against the site, both as individuals and as a group, by phone or by posting messages on the Web site.
Go said the protests intensified. The Web site got flooded with complaints, including threats that anyone who eats dog meat should be killed. In addition, anti-dog-meat activists deluged the company with angry calls, telling them to close the site.
Though they halted the site, Go and Jo said they are not yet finished.
“We are going to continue the business. Though we didn’t make a definite decision, we are reconstructing the business and finding a new way to sell the products,” Go said.
He said many of his customers felt sorry about the halt of the sales and tried to encourage them by writing on the bulletin board of the site or by contacting the civil affairs office of the Seongnam municipal office to make their support public.
There are no laws in Korea covering dog meat, making it neither illegal nor legal, although dogs are classified as livestock. Unlike chickens, cattle and pigs, there are no laws governing the butchering of dogs. The National Assembly considered passing laws regulating dog meat in 2001 and 2005, but never passed anything, preferring not to tackle the hot-button issue.
According to the most recent data from the National Statistical Office, Korean farmers grew 2,310,972 dogs as livestock in 2005. That amount is down by 22 percent from 2002, when the number peaked at 2,948,444 dogs. The number of dog farmers has also decreased, the numbers show.
Statistics on dog meat are hard to find. In 1998, the Food and Drug Administration submitted a report to the National Assembly, saying Korea had 6,484 shops and stores that sell dog meat, and that about 25 tons were consumed each day. Koreans also consume another 93,600 tons of dog meat as a non-alcoholic concentrated drink, called “dog soju,” that is sold at Oriental health stores mixed with various herbs. The report said the annual consumption of dog meat was 100,000 tons annually, meaning dog is the fourth-most popular live-stock consumed in Korea, after pork, beef and chicken.
Neither the Ministry of Health and Welfare nor the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry have a clear position on the issue, because there is no clear legal definition.
Even the nation’s food sanitary laws do not cover dog meat. Under the Food Sanitation Act, the health minister, city mayor and provincial governor have authority to ban the cooking and sale of food that generates public disgust. The government, however, has never designated dog meat as such a product.
“From the point of view of the public’s health, it is appropriate to legalize dog meat it is also impossible to call such a popular dish illegal,” an agricultural ministry official said. “But protests would happen if such a move was taken, so that has to be taken into consideration. That is why we are stuck with no decision.”
The activists say dog meat is unhealthy.
“Dog meat consumers are people who are losing humanity and going against the times,” said Gum Sun-nan, 62, the representative of the Korean Animal Protection Society. “The Koreans were originally vegetarians. However, when they started to eat meat, all of the problems and diseases began,” she claimed. “Through ignorance, men started to eat strange meat to build themselves up, which triggered cruelty to animals. Another reason we are opposing dog meat consumption is the groundless belief in the efficacy of dog meat. Dog meat is remarkably high in cholesterol and easily sticks to the blood vessels.”
She also said the product is not sanitary. “The dogs are fed and processed with dirty hog fat. Therefore, eating dogs for health reasons clearly doesn’t make sense,” Gum said. She said her organization distributed more than 500,000 leaflets around the country to protest the eating of dog meat.
Lee Bi-Gayon, 44, a poet and a representative of the Korean Dog Protection Society, insisted that “Dog meat consumption is definitely illegal and its consumers are mentally deranged. Eating dog meat should not be rationalized in the name of tradition. We are going to stubbornly try to root out the consumption of dog meat.”
Go and Jo disagreed. “The rights of people who eat dog meat are as important as those of people who don’t. Every plant and animal that men eat, as well as dog meat, cannot be eaten unless it is killed first. Popular meat such as pork, beef and chicken are raised and butchered in the same way, but only the butchering of dogs is criticized, severely and unfairly. Rather than forbidding people from eating dog meat, it is more important to protect pet dogs, whose vocal cords or genitals are cut by their masters for hygiene or convenience. If animal lovers really do care for their dogs, they should root out these customs first.”
On a recent weekday, a few days before the first dog day of the year, two stores at Moran Market sold only one dog that day.
However, Kim, the seller, would not give any figures about the sale of the meat.
Dog meat sellers are divided over the issue of legalization. Kim, the seller at Moran Market, said: “We are not sure whether legalization is good or not. If it is legalized, public wholesale markets run by the government will eat up existing retail stores. If not, illegal traders with unsanitary stores and cheap production costs would make unfair profits. It’s a risk both ways.
“What we really want is for them to leave us alone for now,” Kim said. “Dog meat is traditional food. From the time of Korea’s independence movement, poor people began to eat dog meat to survive, and the tradition has continued. Now, the dog meat- eating generation is limited to people in their late 40s and older. As time goes by, the number of consumers is decreasing and dog meat stores and the culture will naturally disappear.
“Threatening and forcing dog meat retailers is just like urging a cancer patient to die early. We’ve been in business here for decades. We are doing fair business under permission from and compromise with the district office.”


By Ser Myo-ja Staff Writer , Byun Ji-ae and Kang So-rang Contributing Writers
[myoja@joongang.co.kr]