In the midst of the pomp and ceremony of the Winter Olympics, the opening ceremonies, the thrilling competition, the national pride being stirred among people around the world as their athletes compete for the gold, there is an ugly underbelly being exposed.
It’s not the specter of an entire national team being caught up in doping scandals, as was the case with the Russians at the previous Winter Olympiad in Sochi, following which 15 athletes were stripped of their medals and banned for life from Olympic competition.
Nor is it the jarring juxtaposition of the gleaming 2016 Summer Olympics venues just a stone’s throw from the grim favelas of Rio de Janeiro, described by The Daily Mail at the time as a scene where “bullet-riddled bodies lie in pools of blood and poverty, drug gangs and young men with assault rifles dominate life.”
No, this Olympian disparity involves cultural norms and dietary preferences, because within mere miles of the XXIII Olympiad venues in PyeongChang, South Korea, there are dog meat “farms” where, according to a lengthy report in USA Today, “Hundreds of dogs are packed in cages until they are killed for their meat.”
For most Americans, the operative question is: Why would anyone want to eat meat from a dog? That’s not irrelevant, given what most dogs will wolf down without flinching. But aside from the dietary preferences of some Koreans, there is an ethical issue involved.
Here’s how USA Today described one such dog meat production site:
“In the rural region of Wonju, down a winding country lane, sits a farm that provides dog meat to some of the thousands of South Korean restaurants where patrons order things such as dog salad, dog ribs, dog stew and dog hot pot.
“The grim surroundings of the farm pains the senses. The first thing to be noticed is the sound, the pitiful whines and yelps of about 300 animals being kept in filthy cages until their execution. Step closer and the stench fills the nostrils, a sickening waft that spreads over two long rows of cramped cages.”
Now, granted, there have been activist-authored screeds describing modern American livestock facilities that are made to appear even worse. However, since there are no veterinary standards, no “best practices,” and no inspection regulations for raising canines as food animals, it’s axiomatic that “dog farms” would exist as underground, black-market operations where sanitation and animal health are way down the list of owner-operator concerns.
“Some of the dogs do not survive long enough to be slaughtered,” the USA Today article continued. “Lying discarded on the mud floor by the plastic awning, is the carcass of a dead Tosa — a rare breed that originated in Japan. Also in the cages were Jindos, St. Bernards and golden Labs.”
And unlike some of the doctored videos showing (alleged) abuse at feedlots, in hog barns or packing plants, the images that appeared in the USA Today story (check it out here) were captured by reputable, professional journalists, and are thus to be taken seriously.
That brings us to the ethical question: Do we ignore another country’s “culture,” even when it offends our sensibilities to the point of outrage? Or are we justified in excoriating a practice we find offensive, even though perhaps millions of people embrace, in this case, the raising, killing and consumption of dogs?
Some would ask: Isn’t eating dog meat merely an ugly but comparable parallel to kosher or halal slaughter, a practice animal activists also find abominable?
The answer is no, it’s not.
For one, kosher and halal are religious rituals, not mere dietary preferences, and thus fall into an entirely different category.
Second, ritual slaughter, done properly, does not cause pain or suffering appreciably different from humane slaughter with captive bolt equipment.
And most importantly, there hasn’t been a need to consume dog meat since Native tribes centuries ago were forced to butcher camp dogs to fend off starvation during a severe winter blizzard. Unlike the production of beef or poultry, which sustains billions of people, dog meat is merely a luxury, if that’s not too bizarre of a description.
The spotlight shining on South Koreans’ acceptance — indeed, embrace — of eating dog meat may not put an end to a practice deeply rooted in the country’s culinary traditions.
But let’s have no hesitation about condemning the practice, and no angst about whether opposing “dog farming” is a violation of cultural sensitivity.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.