20th November 2023 – (Beijing) The recent announcement by South Korea that it plans to ban the sale and slaughter of dogs for human consumption by the end of 2022 is a welcome development that China should closely study and emulate. While the eating of dog meat in South Korea is neither explicitly legal nor illegal, the government has pledged to phase out the industry following growing public calls for its abolition. China still legally allows dog meat consumption, despite mounting opposition domestically and abroad. However, the tide of public opinion is clearly turning against the dog meat trade in China as well. With South Korea taking decisive action to eliminate this cruelty, the Chinese government now has the opportunity and moral imperative to follow suit with nationwide legislation officially prohibiting the slaughter and sale of dogs and cats for food.
The catalyst for South Korea’s proposed ban came earlier this month when local authorities in Seoul stated they aim to pass a new “Special Act” by the end of the year to make dog meat consumption illegal. The phase-out period would last three years until 2027 to allow dog farms, slaughterhouses, restaurants and other dog meat businesses time to transition. Financial compensation would be provided by the government to registered operators surrendering their licenses and transitioning to more humane industries. This pragmatic compromise acknowledges that you cannot end a centuries-old industry overnight, while affirming that dog meat has no place in modern South Korean society.
Public attitudes in South Korea have been shifting for some time, with dogs now viewed by most citizens as pampered pets rather than simply as livestock for eating. A recent survey showed that 70% of South Korean households have pets, mostly dogs. President Yoon Suk-yeol and First Lady Kim Keon-hee are prominent dog lovers, being the proud owners of several canine companions who live with them at the presidential Blue House. Younger generations in particular regard dog meat consumption as archaic and barbaric, resulting in demand plummeting. Some older Koreans still eat dog meat soup, known as “bosintang,” believing it has health benefits that increase stamina during hot summers, but this market is rapidly disappearing. With less than 20% of South Koreans now regularly eating dogs and over 80% supportive of a ban, the government is simply reflecting prevailing community standards.
In China, similar generational change is also evident, as the vast majority of citizens — especially young people in large cities — increasingly view dogs as pets, not protein. Yet China’s laws have not caught up to public sentiment. Commercial dog slaughter and sale remains legal nationwide except in Shenzhen, which banned it in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic heightened fears about risks from the wildlife trade. An estimated 10-20 million dogs are still killed annually for meat in China, even though around 70% of Chinese have never eaten dog meat. The notorious Yulin “Dog Meat Festival” still sees thousands of dogs cruelly slaughtered every June to mark the summer solstice.
While not technically illegal due to the lack of national legislation, the Yulin festival is deeply unpopular across China. Surveys show most Yulin locals don’t regularly eat dogs and don’t object to banning the festival, proving it only continues due to a small group of dog meat traders. Chinese celebrities and millions of citizens have signed petitions condemning the event. Butchers at Yulin routinely steal pets and strays to supply demand. The dogs suffer immensely, being captive-bred, confined in cramped cages, crudely killed using violent methods to supposedly boost adrenaline and flavour, and often skinned and cooked alive. This mass spectacle of animal torture damages China’s international reputation.
Beijing has signalled growing disapproval of the dog meat trade, with the Ministry of Agriculture declaring in April 2020 that dogs are companions not livestock. This followed Shenzhen’s trailblazing ban as concern rose over COVID-19. The agriculture ministry’s position makes eating dog meat seem incongruous with the government’s emphatic promotion of dogs in the public interest, such as police dogs, military dogs, service dogs, search/rescue dogs and contraband detection dogs. How can some dogs be revered for their intelligence and loyalty in aiding humans, while others are sadistically beaten to death and eaten? This contradiction can be resolved through a nationwide dog meat ban bringing policy in line with both social progress and ethical consistency.
China should follow South Korea’s lead, but even bolder legislation is warranted given the immense scale of China’s dog meat industry. Most Western developed countries realised decades ago that dogs have a unique status due to being domesticated over thousands of years as humankind’s closest animal ally. As China continues marching toward the goal of becoming a global powerhouse, the Chinese government should recognise that persisting with legalised dog slaughter leaves a stain on the nation’s conscience and reputation.
China has banned other forms of animal cruelty, such as circuses using wild animals and the trade in tiger bones used in traditional medicine. In legislating to protect dogs and cats from the meat trade, China would align with more progressive Asian societies including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines where eating dogs is illegal, along with many jurisdictions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia.
It is hoped that one day, China, South Korea and all societies will universally prohibit dog meat because we recognise dogs as family members deserving of love. A nationwide ban in China would prevent immense animal suffering, while also signalling moral leadership as a rising superpower genuinely advancing both economically and ethically into this modern age. Just as China abolished the feudal practice of foot binding, so too should it abolish the feudal practice of dog eating and catalyse a new consciousness of compassion.