Food is a substance that holds cultures together. Common foods unify and define countries and regions. However, a food that one group considers a delicacy, another group may find offensive. The French have long been called “frogs” because of their taste for amphibians. The English were once sneered upon as “beefsteak” because of their trend-setting use of cattle, and in the Philippines at least one tribe is nicknamed “dogeaters.”
The name Dogeaters has not been confined to the Philippines, however. The summer of 1988 Seoul Olympics focused the world’s attention on South Korea. One aspect of Korean cuisine the government preferred not to have spotlighted was the use of dog meat. A dog stew, called Poshintang, is commonly available in restaurants in Seoul and the rest of the country. As an ingredient, dog is not as ubiquitous as beef is in the U.S.: it is considered to be something of a delicacy. Traditionally, it has been a seasonal favorite, most popular in the summer. Dogmeat is also purported to be effective as a male stimulant, increasing sexual stamina, even though there is no scientific literature to support this claim.
Even before the Olympics, there was concern that foreign visitors to Seoul might be offended by restaurants offering dog meat. The Ministry of Health and Welfare ordered measures to prevent such a conflict. In 1986, a ban was placed on teh sale of dog meat as an “unseemly” food. The practical result was that most restaurants in city limits replaced signs offering dog meat with smaller, less conspicuous versions, or they renamed the dish to “health stew.” This did not prevent criticism. “How can a nation that will cheerfully eat its best friend be relied upon to host a small dinner party, let alone the Olympic Games?”
- In spite of this kind of pressure, dog meat sales continue. There are plans to open two dog slaughterhouses on Chejun Island, 450 km south of Seoul.
- One entrepreneur has opened a chain of dog meat restaurants. China Trading, the company behind the new restaurant chain, estimates there are now about 20,000 dog meat restaurants throughout the country. It says one restaurant can rack up sales of 10 million won (about $6,020 U.S.) a day during peak dog eating season from April to July.
- In the U.S., the estimated number of animals euthanized ranges from 6 to 150 million per year. If half of the number is composed of dogs, that leaves a lot of potential meat to be exported. Legally, the only barrier would be the Animal Welfare Act, a federal law that covers any “Live or dead dog, cat, nonhuman primate, guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or any other warm-blooded animal which is being used, or is intended for use for research, teaching, testing, experimentation or exhibition purposes. The USDA interprets the act to exclude birds, rats, and mice bred for research, and horses and other farm animals, such as livestock and poultry, used or intended for use as food or fiber.” It is conceivable that dogs raised as livestock would be excluded as well, once it is established that they are being raised as food.
Another rule governing the trade of livestock is the “Twenty-Eight Hour Law” which simply outlines minimum guidelines for the care of animals as they are transported to market. There are certain feed, space, and water requirements if the transit time exceeds a twenty-eight hour period. If the dogs were slaughtered in the U.S., that would eliminate concerns about these regulations. Shipping meat instead of live animals also avoids the problems associated with the quarantine of live animals.
Even though the dog meat market does not seem to be growing at a fast rate, it is conceivable that American exporters could make inroads in a niche market. The breed of dog that is farm-raised in Korea and China is a large dog similar in appearance to the German Shepherd. It is difficult to say whether the variety of breeds in the U.S. would be considered suitable choices for the dog meat market abroad. Market research would need to be done.
Initially, it appears that there may be enough demand to support dog meat export, however, the impediments must be overcome. The voide of the American citizen is one factor that should not be underestimated. Grass roots lobbying has great potential to raise public awareness against export efforts. Boycotts of company family products has the potential to eliminate economic gains realized form coordinated dog exports.
Because the concept of sending dogs overseas to be eaten may be distasteful, it is helpful to examine the current status of unwanted dogs to gauge our attitudes towards the situation.
The SF SPCA claims to be the only public animal shelter with a no-kill policy. They euthanize an animal only if it is suffering from an incurable illness. The policy of other shelters is to “put down” the animal if no one claims it after a certain period, which differs in each jurisdiction.
The result is millions of pounds of flesh to be dealt with. Some of it enters landfills where it eventually decomposes. A small amount of dogs are buried in pet cemeteries. The rest are “recycled.”
Rendering plants process the carcasses for use in dog food and as feed for other animals. “In addition, some 40 billion pounds a year of slaughterhouse wastes like blood, bone, and viscera, as well as the remains of millions of euthanized cats and dogs passed along by veterinarians and animal shelters, are rendered annually into livestock feed – in the process turning cattle and hogs, which are natural herbivores, into unwitting carnivores.” (U.S. News & World Report, Sept. 1, 1997 p. 23)
A good model for export of dog meat is provided by the horsemeat industry. “In the last ten years, more than 3 million American horses have been slaughtered in the U.S. for human consumption abroad.” (http://www.equus.org)
In 1994, 105,000 horses were slaughtered in the U.S. Another 35,000 were shipped live to Canada for slaughter, and another 30,000 were shipped to Mexico for slaughter (http://www.igha.org) for a total of $66 million. Dividing sales by the number of animals slaughtered for the last ten years shows that each animal produced about $400 in income. Considering that a horse typically weighs 8 times more than a 30-pound dog, there is a certain economy of scale that is advantageous when dealing with the larger animal.
Another interesting feature of the horsemeat export industry is its use of Canada and Mexico as export outlets. This strategy is used possibly because the slaughter process is less expensive in Mexico and Canada. These countries may also have more beneficial agreements with trading partners than the U.S.