About 200 South Korean farmers who breed and raise dogs for human consumption held a rally on Thursday near the presidential office in the capital Seoul, demanding the government scrap a plan to ban the controversial centuries-old practice.
Dozens of farmers, who had tried to drive into the street in front of the presidential office by truck with dogs in cages that they intended to release at the scene, were turned away by the police who inspected the cargo covered with blankets.
The ruling party of President Yoon Suk Yeol has introduced a bill to ban the breeding and sale of dogs for consumption and offer financial compensation for those in the industry forced to shutter their business within a three-year grace period.
The time is now to put an end to the controversy around eating dog meat, party members have said, adding there was broad support from the opposition party, which currently controls parliament, and from the public.
More than 6 million South Korean households now own dogs as pets in a country of about 51 million people, and Yoon and his wife Kim Keon Hee are owners of six dogs, including a retired guide dog and a rescue dog.
A Gallup Korea poll last year showed almost two-thirds of respondents opposed eating dog meat, with only 8% saying they had eaten dog within the past year, down from 27% in 2015.
Ju Yeong-bong, who represents an industry group and led Thursday’s rally, said politicians had no right to close down an industry or decide what people chose to eat.
“We can’t agree with the idea that it is barbaric, because all countries that have the tradition of animal husbandry have at some point eaten dogs and there are still countries where it’s done,” he said.
The farmers had been completely excluded from discussion on the bill and proposed financial compensation was completely inadequate given they would lose their livelihoods, Ju said.
The farmers scuffled with police who outnumbered them and set up barricades to stop them from crossing the street to move closer to the presidential office. Three protesters including Ju were detained by police in a chaotic scene, the organisers said.
While the practice of eating dog meat has declined in popularity, the farmers and restaurant owners who serve the meat have been fighting to keep it legal.
The farmers have accused First Lady Kim, a vocal critic of dog meat consumption, of exercising what they call improper pressure on the government and the ruling party to bring in the ban.
“The First Lady has spoken out about this issue with keen interest, and both in the country and abroad there is support and consensus, as well as from the opposition party,” the presidential office said.