Throughout Asia, dog meat is often consumed for its perceived health benefits; for example, dog bone is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, while dog penis and testes are believed to increase virility and cure impotence. A number of classical medical texts also recommend dog meat to fortify the spirit and aid in recovery from illness, classifying dog meat as a medicine as well as a food. It is still common today for doctors to recommend dog meat to patients who have undergone surgery because of its perceived curative effects.
In contrast to China and Vietnam where dog meat is most popular during the winter months as it is believed to have ‘warming effects’, in South Korea dog meat is considered to have ‘cooling effects’, and is more commonly consumed during the summer months, particularly during the boknal or ‘bok’ days - the three hottest days of the summer - when dog meat soup (boshintang) is favoured.
However, whilst there is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims, over recent years, there has been growing awareness of, and concern for, human health risks, which are linked to all stages of the dog meat industry. For example, research shows that sourcing, farming, transporting, slaughtering and consumption of dogs can assist in the transmission of cholera, trichinellosis and rabies.
In addition to the significant animal welfare issues involved in the dog meat industry, opposition towards the production and consumption of dog meat has become increasingly vocal across the world as a result of mounting national and international awareness of the human health risks associated with this industry.
Copyright: World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)
Sourcing of and trading in dogs for human consumption:
The method of sourcing dogs for meat varies in different countries and between provinces. However, throughout Asia, dogs for meat are generally either taken from the streets (stolen/unwanted pets or unowned strays) or are supplied from dog farms.
In most countries in Asia, rabies is endemic within the dog population and dogs collected from the streets are of unknown disease and vaccination status. Despite this, no checks are carried out, so dogs infected with rabies will inevitably be taken with others and killed for their meat. The large-scale trade in and movement of such dogs undertaken for this industry permits the rapid and wide-ranging dispersal of rabies and other diseases, such as cholera and trichinellosis.
In 2008, the World Health Organisation (WHO) highlighted the trade in dogs for human consumption as a contributing factor to the spread of rabies in Indonesia, due to the trade encouraging these animals from various sources to be transported between islands. The long-distance transport of large numbers of dogs killed for their meat has also been linked to outbreaks of rabies in China and Vietnam.
Large-scale dog farms are common in South Korea and China, with some housing thousands of dogs. These are mostly unregulated and there are no or few enforced recommendations for dog farm management, such as measures for disease control, provision of suitable animal feed, disposal of waste etc. Such premises provide optimal conditions for microbes to proliferate: biologically weakened and vulnerable dogs are susceptible to acquiring microbial infections, especially if they are also in a disordered social situation and living in unhygienic conditions with close contact. Furthermore, because of the stressful and cramped farming conditions, dogs frequently fight, enhancing the opportunity for disease transmission.
During the slaughtering process, rabies can be passed to humans several ways:
Dogs butchered for meat are often highly stressed and are more likely to bite and scratch handlers, potentially passing on this fatal disease.
Rabies can spread through the contamination of unrecognised cuts or abrasions on skin as infected carcasses are handled.
Individuals slaughtering dogs can also transmit the virus to themselves if they touch their eyes or lips while having traces of the dog’s fluids on their hands.
Research highlights that the slaughtering of unvaccinated rabies reservoir species, such as dogs, in areas where the disease is prevalent poses a significant risk to human health. For example, in 2007, there was an outbreak of rabies in Ba Vi, Vietnam, an important area for the dog meat trade and the District Department of Animal Health (DAH) reported that 70% of deaths were from dog bites but up to 30% were thought to be linked to exposure during slaughter or butchery.
In 2008, research revealed that 20% of dogs tested in slaughterhouses in Hoai duc, Vietnam, had rabies. In recognition of the risk the slaughtering of dogs poses, workers in slaughterhouses in the area are vaccinated against the disease as part of the national programme for rabies control and prevention.
Several recent outbreaks of cholera in Vietnam have been directly linked to the production and consumption of dog meat. For example, in 2008 there was an outbreak of the disease in northern Vietnam, which prompted a study to identify risk factors for cholera contraction. The research concluded that the consumption of dog meat, and items served with the meat, were strongly associated with the spread of cholera8. Following these findings, the WHO’s representative in Vietnam, Jean-Marc Olive, warned that eating dog meat, or other food from outlets that serve it, is linked to a 20-fold increase in the risk of developing severe acute watery diarrhoea commonly caused by the cholera bacterium.
Trichinella is a zoonotic parasite which causes trichinellosis in humans. In China, trichinellosis has become the most important food-borne parasitic zoonosis, and dog meat consumption has been correlated with eight outbreaks. Similarly in Thailand, the incidence of Trichinella larvae found in dog meat in the areas favouring consumption of the meat is considered to be an upcoming major public health problem.
Copyright: Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)
Copyright: World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)
On dog farms, large numbers of dogs are living in close confinement, under stressful conditions, and are usually being fed insufficient, poor quality food. These factors result in increased levels of infectious disease and high mortality rates. In an effort to try to control the spread of disease and maximise productivity, there is evidence of farmers resorting to the indiscriminate overuse of antibiotics and vaccines.
Such excessive antibiotic use in farm animals is common and leads to increased levels of antibiotic resistance, which can have negative consequences for both animal health and welfare (as diseases become untreatable) and for human health (when antibiotic-resistant bacteria are transferred from animals to humans). For example, resistant salmonella and campylobacter involved in human disease are predominantly spread through foods. Highly antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Escherichia coli have recently emerged in farm animals in many countries, and can be transmitted to humans.
In South Korea and China, as in many other countries, the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production systems is already a serious problem, and the issue is likely to be exacerbated on dog farms where there are few regulations, and no monitoring of meat quality or drug residues.