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Current Trends in Animal Rights: South Korea

Dogs for 'Dog Meat Market' trapped in narrow cages (Hankook Ilbo, 2019)

What recent modifications have occurred in South Korea regarding animal rights? Whether negatively or positively, the fates of animals continue to change with every legislative reform, public demonstration, and cultural shift. This article delves into the notable developments affecting the welfare and treatment of animals in South Korea.

Gaegogi, Korean for dog meat, is soon to be illegalized. The parliament has passed the bill by a 208-0 vote, banning the production and sale of dog meat by 2027. Historically, dogs were considered to be an invigorating source of food, with 1156 industrial-scale dog farms active around the nation. However, such views have diminished drastically in modern years. A 2023 survey by the Animal Welfare Research Institute “AWARE” states that 93% of 2000 citizens had no desire to consume dog meat in the future. This repositioning of culture may partially be owed to the growing pet ownership statistics since people regard dogs more as family and less as food. 

Animal cafès, eating and drinking establishments that allow customers to interact with animals, have gained traction of late. Initially housing traditional pets (e.g. cats or dogs), the industry has expanded to incorporate exotic wildlife into its selection of animals. Raccoons, meerkats, and sheep are difficult to encounter in Korean cities; they have thus attracted locals and foreigners, promising a unique experience. But there were voices of concern— the constant exposure to visitors may instill stress in the animals, and it was uncertain whether the pets received proper management. Aiming to protect animals from these risks, the Ministry of Environment declared the exhibition of wild animals in facilities not registered as zoos or aquariums illegal. Under the amendment to the Wildlife Protection and Management Act, owners of exotic cafes must meet safety and hygiene requirements; otherwise, they will be subject to a fine of 1.5 million won (1,160 USD) per infraction. The law ensures that wild animals are raised in a quality environment while preventing neglect and unethical business practices.

While celebrating glad tidings, we should recognize animal cruelty and advocate for necessary reforms. South Korea has seen a steady incline in animal testing, especially in the field of bio-science. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the annual scientific use of animals has reached an unprecedented 5 million in 2022. Nearly 50% of such animals were injected with lethal doses of chemicals for cancer or infectious disease studies while being denied anesthetic or tranquilizing drugs. Animal testing is classified from grades A to E, based on the pain experienced by the animals— research shows 2,423,155 animals were sacrificed in experiments corresponding to the highest pain level, E. Rodents were the most common lab animal with a total of 4.16 million; examples of other species are birds (427,144 reported), fish (277,582 reported), and rabbits (28,679 reported). Animal suffering must not be incurred in the name of scientific research; advancements in Korean legislation are necessary for animals and humans alike. 

As demonstrated in past events such as the banning of dog meat, the public wields the power to rectify practices deemed immoral. It is crucial that we call attention to instances of mistreatment, working towards a coexistence between animals and people.


은경, 고. “지난해 동물실험 499만 마리로 역대 최다… 절반은 극심한 고통.” 한국일보, 12 July 2023, Accessed 20 March 2024.

상준, 윤. “국내 실험동물 사용량 역대 최다 또 경신..500만 마리 육박.” 데일리벳, 26 June 2023, Accessed 19 March 2024.

Casamitjana, Jordi. “New South Korean Law Restricts Controversial Wild Animal Cafes.” Vegan FTA, 23 January 2024, Accessed 20 March 2024.

Cho, Joohee. “South Korean assembly bans dog meat trade, consumption.” ABC News, 9 January 2024, Accessed 20 March 2024.

Hyo-jin, Lee. “Neither activists nor industry happy with ban on wild animal cafes.” The Korea Times, 13 December 2023, Accessed 20 March 2024.

Jaeeun, Lee. “Korea bans cafes exhibiting exotic animals.” The Korea Herald, 14 December 2023, Accessed 20 March 2024.

Kim, Hyung. “South Korea's Parliament Passes Landmark Ban on Production, Sale of Dog Meat.” Food Manufacturing, 9 January 2024, Accessed 20 March 2024.

“New statistics reveal record-high animal use in South Korean laboratories, nearing 5 million in 2022.” Humane Society International, 13 July 2023, Accessed 20 March 2024.

“South Korea takes dog meat off the menu.” Al Jazeera, 9 January 2024, Accessed 20 March 2024.


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