First lady wades into dog-eating controversy

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First lady wades into dog-eating controversy

First lady Kim Keon-hee sends President Yoon Suk-yeol off to work from their home in Seocho District, southern Seoul, in the morning of May 11, accompanied by the couple's two pet dogs. [NEWS1]

First lady Kim Keon-hee sends President Yoon Suk-yeol off to work from their home in Seocho District, southern Seoul, in the morning of May 11, accompanied by the couple's two pet dogs. [NEWS1]

First lady Kim Keon-hee has sparked controversy with an anti-dogmeat comment.

In an interview with local newspaper Seoul Shinmun published Monday, Kim said, "Korea's animal protection law is the weakest among countries that have achieved economic growth."
"The dogmeat industry can and should come to an end," she continued. "Korea and China are the only two economically successful countries that consume dog meat [...] A universal culture should be shared between developed countries, and the prohibition of dogmeat consumption would be a start.”
It was Kim's first media interview since Yoon’s inauguration on May 10.

Kim’s statement may reopen public debate on the culturally touchy subject of dogmeat consumption and the ambiguous legal situation that allows it.  
Public opinion on the practice has gotten more negative through the years.  

According to a survey of 1,000 people by Gyeonggi in June 2021, 84 percent of respondents said that they had never tasted dogmeat and “have no intention of doing so in the future.”  

“As more people started paying attention to animal protection and welfare, public sentiment towards dogmeat consumption has changed drastically,” said the province in its analysis of the poll.

When it comes to a ban on dogmeat consumption, however, opinions are more nuanced.  

The Gyeonggi survey found that only 60 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds and 61 percent of those in their 30s supported a ban compared to 68 percent for people in their 60s and 69 percent for people in their 70s.  

Some analysts say that because the MZ Generation — which includes Millennials born between 1980 and 1995 and Generation Z born between 1996 and 2010 — values personal liberty, they believe dogmeat consumption should be an individual's choice.  

“Regardless of personal preferences about dogmeat, people in their 20s and 30s are sensitive to situations where individual rights are violated,” said Yoon Sang-chul, a professor in the Sociology Department of Hanshin University.  

“Because they are a generation that has freedom for themselves, they, inevitably, are more sensitive to government intervention and infringement of rights than older generations.”

Mr. Kim, a company employee in his 20s, personally dislikes dogmeat. “It just doesn’t suit my taste.” But he doesn't think there's any need for a legal ban.  

“Because demand for dogmeat is declining, the industry is bound to naturally disappear. And banning the dogmeat industry would be inconsistent since we allow other livestock industries.”

Part of the debate on the topic seems to be driven by political partisanship, like so many things in Korea.

Non-supporters of President Yoon Suk-yeol pointed out that his wife’s statement could be seen as disrespectful of China, an important economic and diplomatic partner for Korea. In an online comment, one critic of the first lady vowed to "eat dogmeat again for the first time in years.”  

Supporters of Yoon wasted no time with defenses of the first lady.  

“The image of a 'dog-eating country' has a negative effect on Korea’s national dignity,” a supporter of Yoon wrote online.

“For Korea to rise into a developed country, dogmeat consumption must be prohibited by law,” wrote another, making references to China and Vietnam, the world’s largest consumers of dog meat.  

It’s not the first time that dog meat consumption has come into the maw of a political debate.  

Addressing the issue during the presidential campaign, Yoon himself said, “Dogs that are used in the dogmeat industry are raised separately. They are not the same as pet dogs.” This supportive comment about the industry contradicts his current stance: he now fully supports a ban on dogmeat consumption. 
After the election, Yoon attended the K-Pet Fair and stated that he “clearly opposes eating dogs.” He has made several appearances with his four dogs and three cats to show his affection towards animals.  

“The enactment of legislation and punishment for dogmeat consumption is a serious matter that must be decided through a national consensus,” said Yoon.

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