Dog meat trade in South Korea defiant despite protests, pressure of Olympic spotlight

Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel poses with her dog she saved from the South Korean dog meat trade. (AP).
Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel poses with her dog she saved from the South Korean dog meat trade. (AP).

As the planet sets its eyes on PyeongChang, South Korea, for the next two weeks to watch world-class grace and athleticism, an ugly subset of the country’s culture is seeing increased exposure from the Olympic spotlight.

The dog meat trade.

Around 2 million dogs each year are bred on dog meat farms for human consumption in South Korea, according to the Associated Press. They are often raised in cruel conditions, beaten or left without food before they are slaughtered. It’s a practice deeply ingrained in South Korean culture, with many believing that eating dog meat increases virility and energy.

It has become more taboo as younger generations have come to view dogs as pets rather than food. The AP reports that one in five households in South Korea keep a dog or cat as a pet.

With the arrival of the Olympics, pressure on the dog meat industry in PyeongChang has mounted. There are 12 dog meat restaurants in the city, and the local government has asked them to shutter or change their menus during the Games, even offering subsidies.

Most of them have not complied, AFP reports.

“We’ve faced a lot of complaints from restaurant operators that we are threatening their livelihood,” county official Lee Yong-bae told AFP. “Some of them initially shifted to selling pork or things instead of dog meat only to find their sales plunging sharply. They then switched back to dog meat.”

The trade has sparked activism, local protests and online calls for a boycott of the Olympics. Twitter protestors have been active with the Games under way, using common Olympics hashtags to draw attention to their cause.

The trade has also caught the attention of Canadian figure skater Meagan Duhamel, who rescued a dachshund mix from South Korea last year to live with her and her husband.

Duhamel, a two-time world champion, Sochi silver medalist and a vegan plans to use her presence in South Korea to curb the dog meat industry and has partnered with Humane Society International in its efforts to ban the trade. She’s also working with Toronto-based organization Free Korean Dogs to help encourage more adoptions of dogs and puppies at risk in South Korea.

It is common in South Korea for authorities to urge dog meat vendors to downplay their menus for international events, according to AFP.

But no light shines quite like that of the Olympic rings, and the pressure on the industry is likely higher now than it’s ever been to actually stop the trade rather than mask it when visitors are in town.

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