On January 9, 2023, the South Korean parliament passed a bill to ban dog meat, including breeding, butchery, distribution, and sale of dogs for their meat – a move that is likely to end the controversial practice.

Animal welfare campaigners have hailed the decision as a “historic victory” after years of pressure from both within the country and abroad. While the law does not criminalise consumption, the measures are set to bring an end to eating animals, a practice that is said to date back centuries. 

Consuming dog meat in South Korea is a centuries-old practice. A report by the BBC said, historically, cows were highly valued and so prized that people had to obtain a government permit to slaughter them up until the late 19th Century. Therefore, dog meat became the best source of protein and was enjoyed by people across the class spectrum.

According to Reuters, the consumption of dog meat within the country has become rare. It is “largely limited to some older people and specific restaurants,” as more Koreans consider dogs as pets and as criticism of how the dogs are slaughtered has grown.

About 93% of South Korean adults said they didn’t want to consume dog meat in the future, and 82% said they supported a ban, according to a survey conducted last year by Aware, an animal welfare organisation in Seoul, The New York Times reported.

The ban, which passed with 208 votes in support and two abstentions, will come into force in 2027 after a three-year grace period. 

Under the Bill, slaughtering dogs for consumption can attract fines of up to 30 million won (approximately Rs 19 lakh) or imprisonment of up to three years. Selling and breeding dogs for consumption can also attract a 2-year prison sentence or a fine of 20 million won (Rs 12.58 lakh).

Its provisions will be implemented in 2027, following a three-year grace period for dog farm owners, meat restaurants, and other workers in the trade to close their businesses or find alternative sources of employment.

According to activists, many dogs are electrocuted or hanged when slaughtered for meat, though breeders and traders argue there has been progress in making the slaughtering more humane. Additionally, pet ownership in South Korea has increased in recent years, with government data showing that one in four Korean households owned a pet dog in 2022, up from 16% in 2010. 

Despite the decline in consumption, about 1,150 farms continue to breed dogs for meat, while 1,600 restaurants sell dog meat dishes in South Korea, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. The Bill also found strong support from South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and First Lady Kim Keon. Both the President and his wife, known to be animal lovers and owners themselves, campaigned for the ban and said that outlawing the custom was one of the presidential priorities.

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