In South Korea there is the Korean Edible Dog Association. It is made up of breeders and sellers who represent more than 3,500 farms where a million and a half dogs are raised and end up on the menu of more than 3,000 restaurants throughout the country.

A couple of months ago, 200 of these breeders stood in front of the presidential office in Seoul and threatened to release more than two million dogs into public places if a bill to ban dog meat went ahead.

There have been many years of controversy and debate; of confrontations between breeders and animal owners; of watching first lady Kim Keon-hee become the country’s most notorious activist against a century-old but dwindling tasting.

With 2024 underway, politicians agreed to fulfill the long-awaited wish of many South Koreans outside the meat industry: Parliament voted on Tuesday in favor of banning the breeding, sale and slaughter of dogs for meat.

The legislation, approved in a near-unanimous vote (208 votes in favor and only two abstentions, representing a rare exercise in bipartisan support rarely seen in Seoul), will go into effect in 2027. Businesses (dog farms, butcher shops, retailers and restaurants) will have a three-year grace period to look for alternative sources of income. The Government has committed to supporting them with economic compensation so that they exit the trade.

But if the producers do not comply with the new rule after the deadline (they allege that the law will destroy their livelihoods and that the ban will erase the popular culture of dog meat consumption) they face three-year prison sentences. or up to 30 million won (around 21,000 euros) in fines. However, the consumption of dog meat will continue to be legal, so some animal rights organizations fear that the business will continue in the shadows.

Following the lunar calendar, the three hottest days of the year in South Korea, which usually fall in mid-July, are known as Boknal. On these dates, for decades, it has been a tradition in many restaurants to serve the famous boshintang, a stew made from boiled dog meat.

This dish has traditionally been linked to the belief that it helps people resist heat stroke and summer humidity. A tradition that has been so deep-rooted to the point that, according to meat industry reports, almost 80% of the dog meat consumed in the Asian nation is eaten during Boknal.

Animal groups say that the dogs most used for these dishes are the nureongi crossbreeds, which are medium-sized and have yellowish fur. Last year, authorities estimated a thousand breeding farms, 34 slaughterhouses and 1,600 restaurants serving dog meat. But the Korean Edible Dog Association presents much higher figures.

One of the animal rights organizations that has waged the most war against dog meat is Humane Society International (HSI), from where they point out that in the capital, Seoul alone, there are approximately 436 restaurants where dog meat is served. The activists of this group have been rescuing dogs from farms for more than a decade.

“Dog meat was popular when our food resources were scarce, such as during the Korean War. But as the economy develops and people’s perception toward animals and our food consumption changes, I think it’s time adapt to modern times,” defends Lee Sang-kyung, campaign director for the ban of this meat at HSI Korea.

Since 2017, there has been an animal protection law in South Korea that classifies dogs as companion animals. But that did not mean that they left the food plate, although the vast majority of South Koreans do not eat dogs, and those who do are mainly older people.

This week, Animal Welfare Awareness, Research and Education (AWARE), a consultancy focused on animal welfare, said in a report that 94% of its respondents had not eaten dog meat in 2023 and that 93% did not consider doing so. in the future.

Within South Korean society, many groups had emerged that were fighting to stop the killing of dogs, but the turn for the debate to enter Parliament, uniting the Government and the opposition in the same bill, came when, last year, it appeared First Lady Kim Keon-hee campaigning alongside animal rights activists.

“I will try to put an end to the consumption of dog meat before the end of this government’s term. I believe that is my duty,” promised the 51-year-old art entrepreneur, wife of President Yoon Suk-yeol. “It’s a problem that can be solved through policy, for example supporting people working in the industry to change jobs,” she added. Finally, South Korea looks set to take dog meat off the menu.