Dogs in South Korea breathe a sigh of relief after new law


South Korea’s parliament passed a bill Tuesday banning the breeding and slaughter of dogs for consumption, ending the traditional yet controversial practice of eating dog meat after years of nationwide debate.

The bill received rare bipartisan support across South Korea’s divided political landscape, highlighting how attitudes toward eating dog have transformed over the past few decades during the country’s rapid industrialization.

The law will ban the distribution and sale of food products made or processed with dog ingredients, according to the corresponding committee of the National Assembly.

However, customers who consume dog meat or related products will not be subject to punishment – meaning the law would largely target those working in the industry such as dog farmers or sellers.

Under the bill, anybody slaughtering a dog for food can be punished by up to three years in prison or fined up to 30 million Korean won (about $23,000). Anyone who breeds dogs for eating, or who knowingly acquires, transports, stores or sells food made from dogs, also faces a lower fine and prison time.

Farm owners, dog meat restaurants and other workers in the dog trade will have a three-year grace period to close or change their business, according to the committee. Local governments will be required to support those business owners to “stably” transition to other businesses. The bill now heads to President Yoon Suk Yeol for final approval. It was proposed by both Yoon’s ruling party and the main opposition party, and has received vocal support from First Lady Kim Keon Hee, who owns multiple dogs and visited an animal protection organization during a presidential state visit to Netherlands in December.

Like parts of Vietnam and southern China, South Korea has a history of consuming dog meat. It was traditionally viewed in South Korea as a food that could help people beat the heat during the summer, and was also a cheap and readily available source of protein at a time when poverty rates were far higher.

There are about 1,100 dog farms operating for food purposes in South Korea, and about half a million dogs being raised on these farms, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.