About 200 South Korean farmers who breed and raise dogs for human consumption clashed with police on Thursday near the presidential office in Seoul, demanding the government scrap a plan to ban the controversial centuries-old practice.
The farmers, who brought dozens of live dogs in cages to the rally, chanted slogans and held signs that read “Protect the right to eat dog meat” and “Dog meat is our culture”. They also accused the first lady, Kim Keon Hee, of influencing the proposed legislation, as she is a vocal critic of dog meat consumption and has adopted several stray dogs.
The police blocked the protesters from marching to the presidential office, and scuffles broke out as some farmers tried to break through the barricades. No injuries or arrests were reported.
The protest came as the ruling People Power Party and the main opposition Democratic Party agreed to pass a bill this year that would outlaw dog meat consumption, citing animal welfare and public health concerns. The bill would give the industry a three-year grace period to transition out of the trade, as well as provide financial support for those affected.
South Korea is one of the few countries in the world where eating dog meat is still legal, although its popularity has declined in recent years, especially among younger generations. A Gallup Korea poll last year showed that 64% of respondents opposed eating dog meat, while only 8% said they had eaten it in the past year.
According to the Korea Dog Meat Farmers’ Association, about 3,500 farms are raising 1.5 million dogs and 3,000 restaurants serving dog meat in the country. The farmers say banning dog meat would destroy their livelihoods and infringe on their freedom of choice.
However, animal rights activists and international organizations have long condemned the practice as cruel, and have urged South Korea to follow the example of other Asian countries, such as Taiwan and Thailand, that have banned dog meat consumption.
The proposed ban, if enacted, would mark a significant shift in South Korea’s attitude toward this controversial culinary tradition, which dates back to ancient times and is believed to have health benefits, especially during the summer months.