Dog Meat Markets Die Slow Death as Tradition Wanes

  • By Kim Seung-jae

    July 19, 2018 13:55

    Korea is gradually weaning itself off the habit of eating man's best friend, but there are some casualties along the way when a tradition hundreds of years old dies.

    Moran Market in Seongnam just south of Seoul is the biggest distributor of dog meat in the Seoul metropolitan area. Restaurant owners used to flock here in search of meat for Sambok, the three hottest days of the year when it is traditionally eaten.

    But on Tuesday, the first of the three dog days, the market was eerily quiet. There used to be more than 50 butchers in the market, but now there is only one left.

    Most dog butchers have already switched to running other eateries or health food stores. The Seongnam city government signed an agreement with the market's union of butchers in December 2016, offering help in switching to a different business.

    The city yielded to countless petitions from animal rights activists, and out of the 22 butchers that were then still in operation, 21 have shut down. Fifteen now sell organic rabbit or goat products, and six became restaurants.

    Lee Kang-chun, who at 62 had worked as a dog butcher for 30 years, opened a chicken soup restaurant in March. But things were not going great and he only made about W150,000 a day, so he had to add dog soup to his menu. "I also have dogs as pets at home, but don't you think we should distinguish dogs bred for meat from dogs bred as pets?" he said. It is a dilemma other countries have also wrestled with, not always even to their own satisfaction.

    Kim Yong-buk, head of the traders union who opened a squid restaurant there early this month, said, "The city government advertises that Moran Market doesn't butcher dogs any more, but that's just cut the number of visitors to the market."

    One former butcher who had opened a sushi restaurant had to close his new business within three months as he was struggling financially.

    Shin Seung-chul (53) is the last dog butcher to hold out. He has known nothing else his whole life, starting as a butcher at the age of 21 and settling in this market eight years ago. He only managed to finish primary school and has no other skills.

    "My education was short, but by working as a dog butcher I was able to buy a house for my mother and send my son to Seoul National University to become an international lawyer. I’m proud of that," he said.

    "When I refused to change my business, so many district and government officials kept coming to pressure me," he added. "They've never done a day's work themselves, and now they're targeting someone who decided not to change his business."

    Twice the district office has seized Shin's stall, claiming that he violated building laws by setting up a makeshift stall. Shin filed for an injunction against the district mayor.

    "Compared to a year ago, our sales are down by 60 percent. I can't simply give up what I've done all my life for a cause that doesn't even have legal grounds," he said.

    In fact it is a very gray area. Under current laws, dogs are not included in the definition of livestock, which means there is no legal way of regulating butchering, distribution and selling of dog meat. Seongnam city said its policy is to continue to encourage dog butchers to change their business and help them with the transition.

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