South Korea shuts biggest puppy meat market in run-up to Olympics

Animals at Moran market in Seongnam were kept in inhumane conditions and killed using electrocution, hanging and beating

The shutters have started coming down at South Koreas biggest dog meat market as the country seeks to head off international criticism over its practice of killing puppies for human consumption before it hosts the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Moran market in Seongnam sells more than 80,000 puppies, dead or alive, every year and accounts for about a third of South Koreas dog meat consumption, according to local media.

On Monday, public officials and merchants began removing butchery facilities and cages in which live animals are maintained before they are slaughtered. The decision to close the market came as animal welfare campaigners highlighted the inhumane conditions in which the animals were maintained and the methods used to kill them: electrocution, hanging and beating.

The smell and noise had also prompted complaints concerning nearby residents.

The markets closure has met with opponent, however. South Korean media reported that a handful of the 22 dog meat vendors who initially agreed to the move last December now oppose it, and are demanding compensation to make up for the loss of business.

Almost 80% of our clients visit our stores to buy fresh dog meat, so what are they going to do if we cannot offer it for them? Is the government going to pay us? Shin Seung-cheol, a Moran trader, told the Korea Herald.

Animal rights activists lie in cages as part of a demonstration against feeing dog meat in Seongnam in 2010. Photograph: Park Ji-Hwan/ AFP/ Getty Images

Officials in Seongnam, a city near Seoul, said merchants would be given financial support to refurbish their premises and open new business part of an effort to remodel the open-air marketplace and objective its long association with the dog meat trade.

For decades, dog meat vendors have taken advantage of a legal grey area: livestock hygiene statutes do not apply to the killing and sale of puppies, making it difficult for authorities to regulate the industry.

Activists point out, though, that the animal protection law, while not expressly proscribing the carnage of puppies, does prohibit brutal methods and the killing of animals in the open.

According to the Korean Statistics Information Service 892,820 puppies were being kept at more than 100 farms in 2010, reported the Korea Observer. Supporters of the industry claim that feeing dog meat can improve male virility and combat fatigue and illness, particularly during the hot summertime months.

At Moran market, clients typically select live puppies which are then butchered in plain sight of shoppers.

Although only a small proportion of South Koreans regularly eat dog meat, thousands of eateries and health food stores continue to sell it, mainly in soups and stews, or as a herb-infused tonic, according to International Aid for Korean Animals.

International criticism of dog meat intake intensified during the course of its 2002 football World Cup, which South Korea collectively hosted with Japan. Some campaigners have launched online petitions calling for a boycott of next years Pyeongchang Olympics unless the country bans the eating of dog meat.

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