Animals in Agriculture in South Korea
Food is an important part of Korean culture; not only because it feeds the population but also because it has to do with Korean cultural identity. Historically, traditional Korean cuisine consisted of grains, in particular rice, and fresh vegetables, due to the impossibility of accessing meat products. With time, other traditional cuisines merged and mixed with Korean cuisine, with the appearance of such meals as pizza, burgers, sushi, and other foreign dishes. It can be easily emphasized that traditionally, Koreans have been vegetarians and used meat in their dishes very rarely as it has been a delicacy. In modern times, with the development of the agricultural and aquaculture industry, meat has become much more accessible and, of course, profitable for businesses in the country.
Animals in Agriculture
The livestock sector in South Korea is continually growing. In 2020, the estimated market size of farm animal products in South Korea amounted to approximately 27.63 trillion South Korean won (~ USD 21 615 613 600). The market size of livestock products stayed the same as the previous year, but the market size of farm animal products showed an increasing trend over the last five years.
In the livestock farming industry, cattle is the dominant type of farming in the country. In 2021, it was estimated that there were approximately 94.5 thousand cattle farms in South Korea, which included beef cattle and dairy cattle. Cattle farming was followed by pig farms (5.9 thousand).
The consumption of all kinds of meat per capita, such as beef, pork, and chicken, continued to increase over the years. The reason for that was that both domestic supply and imports were growing every year, but each of these meat markets developed differently. The retail beef price remained stable throughout the year, the pork price was on the rise, and the chicken price was on the decline.
Now, South Korea is working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The agricultural industry, including the livestock sector, accounts for only 3% of total domestic emissions, but greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock industry sector in Korea are still increasing. The South Korean government is targeting a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock by 2030 by expanding the share of renewable energy produced using animal waste.
The Animal Protection Act of 2017, which remains the only major legal instrument for the protection of animals in the country, applies to the protection of farmed animals. This Act does not specifically aim at the protection of farmed animals, but it contains general provisions with regard to the duty of care and the anti-cruelty provisions (Articles 3, 7, 8).
Article 5 states that the Animal Welfare Committee within the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries shall provide recommendations to the Ministry about the issues, which include the certification of animal welfare livestock farms and policies on animal welfare livestock farming. Article 4 requires the government to “formulate and implement a comprehensive plan for the welfare of animals once every five years, to include matters regarding the expansion of animal welfare livestock farming and animal welfare livestock farms.”
Article 29 of the Act allows those who run the farms to obtain a secondary certificate as an animal welfare livestock farm if these farms allow animals to “live an ordinary life while maintaining their natural behavior.”
The Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act included cattle, horses, sheep, goats, swine, wild boars, chickens, ducks, and other animals in the definition of livestock, however, dogs were not classified as livestock despite the commonality of the practice of the dog meat farming and trade. Operating farms and other livestock farming businesses are required to have a license in accordance with the procedure under the Livestock Industry Act. Unfortunately, despite the rising farming and production of livestock of cattle and pigs, there is no concrete policy or legislation with regard to the rearing of these animals.
As for the transportation of farmed animals in South Korea, the Animal Protection Act in its Article 9 provides that a person appointed by the Ordinance of the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, is obliged to inspect that animals in transit are supplied with adequate food and water, as well as they shall not be injured at the beginning and at the end of the transportation journey. Moreover, it is required that the transportation vehicles must be built in a way that they protect animals from any possible injuries, as well as they shall minimize suffering and pain that can be caused by the rapid temperature change and other factors. Furthermore, old animals, young animals, pregnant animals, and those with offspring shall be separated from others and take other necessary measures to prevent animals from pain.
The Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act provides the standards for the process of slaughtering farmed animals and their treatment before and during slaughter. However, these methods and procedures only apply to those registered farms that operate businesses and only for commercial purposes. Those animals that are slaughtered for personal consumption, except cattle and horses, or for direct cooking and consumption, are not required to be slaughtered at a licensed facility (slaughterhouse).
The Animal Protection Act in Article 10 states that when farmed animals are slaughtered in accordance with the Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act and the Act on the Prevention of Contagious Animal Diseases, their suffering shall be minimized. For example, the Ordinance of the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries provides that such methods as gas stunning or electrical stunning shall only be used when animals are already unconscious. Also, the same Article 10 of the Animal Protection Act highlights that animals shall not be slaughtered in a cruel manner and shall be free from unnecessary pain, fear, or stress in the process of slaughtering. However, this again only applies to those farms and facilities that are licensed to operate businesses and do not apply to single farmers or local small farms. While enterprises that conduct slaughter are required to have a license to operate, still lack of animal welfare or the violation of animal cruelty provisions are not explicitly listed as the reason to suspend a license under the Livestock Products Sanitary Control Act or the Livestock Industry Act.
Overall, the Animal Protection Act enshrines the five freedoms for animals and the space requirements for farmed animals in South Korea are above OIE animal welfare standards, however, it is sometimes impossible for some farmed animals to live their ordinary life and maintain natural behavior. The Government has demonstrated its will to change the situation and produced animal welfare standards for guidance. It is positive that the government has taken steps to recognize international trends and has introduced animal welfare certification programs for farms. Also, following recent human health scares, the Government of Korea has pledged to move away from its traditional factory farming and battery cage systems.