South Korea lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill banning the breeding, slaughtering, and selling dogs for their meat. The move ends a centuries-old practice activists have slammed as a national embarrassment.
South Korean cuisine has long featured dog meat and at one point up to a million dogs were killed for the trade every year, according to activists cited by AFP.
But consumption has sharply declined recently as Koreans welcome pet ownership in droves and embrace loving their four-legged friends rather than eating them.
AFP reports official support for a ban has grown under President Yoon Suk Yeol, a self-professed animal lover who has adopted several stray dogs and cats with First Lady Kim Keon-hee — who is herself a vocal critic of dog meat consumption.
The bill, which was proposed by both the ruling and main opposition parties, was passed unanimously by a 208-0 vote.
Under the law, raising or slaughtering dogs for consumption will be banned, as will distributing or selling dog meat. Those found guilty of doing so could be sent to jail.
Those butchering dogs could face up to three years in prison, while those who raise dogs for meat or sell dog meat could serve a maximum of two years.
However, the consumption of dog meat itself will not be illegal, the BBC notes.
It will come into effect following a three-year grace period after it receives final approval from Yoon.
“Now there is no longer any justification for being criticised as a ‘dog-eating country’,” said Thae Yong-ho, a ruling People Power Party lawmaker who proposed the bill.
Animal rights activists hold placards during a rally welcoming a proposed bill banning dog meat trade at the National Assembly in Seoul on January 9, 2024.(JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)
“The ruling and opposition parties and the government must now take the lead in protecting… animal rights,” he said in a statement.
Activists also welcomed the bill saying it was “history in the making” to formally declare the end of dog meat consumption, a practice still widely observed in other countries including China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
“We reached a tipping point where most Korean citizens reject eating dogs and want to see this suffering consigned to the history books,” JungAh Chae, executive director of Humane Society International/Korea, said in a statement.
“Today our policymakers have acted decisively to make that a reality,” she said.
“While my heart breaks for all the millions of dogs for whom this change has come too late, I am overjoyed that South Korea can now close this miserable chapter in our history and embrace a dog friendly future.”
According to government statistics seen by the BBC, South Korea had around 1,600 dog meat restaurants and 1,150 dog farms in 2023.