Animal Rights

The Cultural Hubris of Olympic Dog Meat Outrage

Americans find Korea's dog meat trade horrifying, yet ignore what's going on in U.S. slaughterhouses.

Photo Credit: photomaster/Shutterstock

There’s a large group that was not celebrating the Olympic hoopla in South Korea: the two million dogs in South Korea who are brutally slaughtered each year after spending their short lives in small wire cages.

Korean dogs raised to be eaten "are fed rotten, ground-up food scraps that result in the death of many puppies," says James Hyams, who documented the Korean dog meat trade over 18 months and directed the short film Korean Dog Meat Expose. "The first and only time the dogs' feet touch the ground is when they are electrocuted to death for their flesh."

Yet restaurants serving dog meat were within walking distance of the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, and within miles of the games are dirty, decrepit, reeking dog farms.

Americans have been horrified. Still, given the widespread abuse of animals in the global food system, is the outrage about dog meat cultural hubris?

I’m all too familiar with the Asian trade that kills 30 million dogs every year. In 2016, I and two other investigators traveled to Yulin, China, to document it. We filmed atrocities within a dog slaughterhouse and visited a dilapidated hovel where dogs were raised for food. For this work, we faced beatings and days-long government interrogations, yet we managed to rescue three dogs. One of them, Oliver, is now a treasured member of my family.

The U.S. slaughters over nine billion land animals a year. Yet Americans largely ignore this cruelty just as the Asian public largely ignores the dog meat trade. Asian supporters of dog meat see Western outrage as hypocrisy and a relic of colonialism. As a dog meat vendor put it, Indian culture holds cows sacred and Americans revere dogs.

If killing dogs is no different from killing chickens, why do Americans recoil from dog meat and relish barbequed chicken?

In a psychological process which Stanford professors call "moral credentialing," we Americans often use the barbarism of dog farmers to enhance our sense of moral superiority, insulating our own barbaric practices from scrutiny. This hypocrisy undermines attempts by Asian-American people, like me, to build common cause with animal activists overseas. The result is that animals suffer.

Thankfully, things are beginning to change. Investigations such as those done by DxE and other animal rights groups are spreading awareness of the hidden violence. A 2014 Gallup poll found a surprising 32 percent support granting animals the “same rights as people," while another poll found 47 percent of Americans support a ban on slaughterhouses.

Simultaneously, Asian activists are successfully challenging the system. In China, for example, they banned a dog meat festival in 2011,shut down 126 restaurants' dog meat sales during the past few years, and rescued over 1,000 dogs in 2017.

As we move on from the Olympic Winter Games, I hope we give a thought not just to the dogs being killed in South Korea, but to all our animal victims, and take steps to create a world where all animals are free from exploitation.

Wayne Hsiang is a lawyer, investigator and co-founder of animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere.

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