Bok Nal Festival organisers in South Korea, unlike the rest of the population, are praying for a hot and humid July and August. That’s because eating dog meat is believed to improve the human body’s resistance to heat, so cold and rain will reduce the demand for their signature dish of dog meat soup. As if Yulin wasn’t bad enough, Bok Nal has the dubious honour of perhaps being the most gratuitously cruel dog meat festival in the world. Customers will often ask to have the live dogs beaten before slaughter so that the blood bleeds out of their muscles. This sickening request is often only the start of the torture as the belief is that the greater the terror and pain of the animal, the tastier and more tender the meat. Typical slaughter involves electrocution, hanging and bleeding out by cutting into arteries to reduce the pungent smell of the flesh. Dogs are then boiled (possibly still conscious), or roasted with blow torches and all this while the next victims look on in terror.
Whilst dog meat is eaten all year round in South Korea, the barbaric festival of Bok Nal takes place during July and August and is a series of days in which eating dog meat is ritualised and celebrated. In the run up to the event blue trucks drive round rural areas with speakers blaring “I buy dogs” and it is not only dog farmers who will sell on their dogs to these traders; unwanted pet dogs and strays are also crammed into these trucks and sent on their way to a cruel fate. The dog meat trade in Korea is sometimes justified because of the existence of farms breeding dogs solely for meat. It is argued that they are not pets, so it doesn’t matter what happens to them. Even if this were true, the distinction between companion dogs and farmed dogs is disingenuous; the only difference is the purpose for which they were bred and farmed dogs feel pain and fear as much as any other. The farms are based on American style factory farming methods and many of the dogs have a pitifully, desolate life in cages and dark sheds waiting for the big blue truck to take them away. Many of the dogs are the yellow Nurionge breed that is commonly bred for meat, but there are many other breeds, large and small, that also find their way into the human food chain. As one anti-dog meat activist put it, entering one of these farms “is like entering some Dantean hell out of one’s childhood nightmares. The smell is overpowering and nauseating, with piles of excreta amid the merciless conditions”. No dog deserves to live like that.
Tradition is another oft used excuse for allowing this deplorable treatment of animals to continue. Due to poorly constructed South Korean laws, dogs can be classified as livestock by the Livestock Industry Act, meaning they can be legally bred for dog meat, but are not classified as an animal for human consumption by the Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act. This means there are no laws on how they should be safely and humanely slaughtered. Although the 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 explicitly prohibited under Article 7(1,), the director of the General Animal Health Division for the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MIFAFF) believes that no punitive measures should be taken against those in the dog and cat meat industry as it would lead to a “clash of cultures” and a backlash against the government. Such wilful inaction is inexcusable when there are very real threats to public health associated with the dog meat trade. With no regulation, sick and diseased animals often find their way into the food chain. Dogs with skin diseases can be bought for less by the traders and no checks are made as to what other illnesses the dogs may harbour. Unsold or dead dogs may be used to feed the others, so continuing the chain of infection. Such practices were implicated in the rise of mad cow disease in the UK and could have grave consequences, not only for South Koreans, but for the world. Unsanitary and poorly regulated farming conditions can lead to virus outbreaks, avian flu being one such example, and with global distribution networks able to spread them across the world, we should all be concerned about the risks.
Campaigners are focusing their attention on persuading the farmers to reinvest in other sources of income such as growing blueberries, but with dog breeding being such a lucrative trade, it is an uphill struggle. South Korea is a small country and unregulated dog farms take up much needed space as well as causing pollution to surrounding areas. They are often unpopular with local residents due to the smell and noise they create. Government support is needed to help farmers switch to a new income stream which they are reluctant to provide, but it would be money well spent if a public health crisis is to be avoided.
Arguing against tradition, animal welfare campaigners suggest that traditional Korean diets were actually plant based. Eating dog and cat meat increased in the 1960s when poverty was rife and this meat was cheap and easy to come by. This is not the case today and tradition can never be an excuse for cruelty and abuse. Dogs are not livestock, but have been carefully bred over many years to be human companions. They are used the world over to enrich our lives as pets as well as in many industries to make our lives easier and safer. They deserve better than to be born into a life of such cruelty and degradation.
Article written by one of our wonderful volunteers, Jo Chick.