In the media nowadays, it is easy to stumble upon news related to animal rights. The issues related to people infringing upon animal rights range from the recent news with the representative of Coexistence of Animal Rights on Earth (CARE) being found guilty of having euthanized hundreds of rescued animals, to the ongoing debate about the consumption of animals in our diet, as well as the abuse of animals for our pleasure. Although there are laws written in the Korean constitution regarding animal rights, enforcement is difficult due to the ambiguity within the laws.
Animal Rights and the Korean Attitude Towards It
Animal rights stand for the belief that animals also possess the right to life; the right to avoid suffering and to not be abused. In Korea, the Animal Protection Law exists as mentioned before, but it is not stated clearly or in enough detail. With the incident involving CARE, other past issues regarding animal rights infringements were also brought up to the surface.
Yim Soon-rye, the Representative of Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) said: “It seems to be true that the interest toward animal rights is growing compared to the past, but it is still insufficient compared to other social fields in Korea. The slow pace of improvement in such perceptions seems to be due to the fact that the issue of animal welfare is considered as a secondary problem to other big discourses such as economic and political issues in our society, and thus has a less direct impact on people’s lives.”
Controversies in Animal Rights- The Ethical Perspective
In fall 2018, a puma accidentally escaped from the zoo at Daejeon and eventually ended up being killed. This led to a growing concern for the welfare of zoo animals. Yim mentioned that “In addition, in the process of providing zoos with wild animals and also when animals are captured by smugglers, it is often the case that individual animals, a family, or a group of wild animals could get killed. Most of the time, animals that are used to living in a family or in a herd often find it difficult to live on their own, and frequently show abnormal behaviors such as severe depression or lethargy. Since there are many risks for animals in captivity, many animal rights activists believe it is recommendable to abolish zoos.”
The current administrative regulation has policies under the ‘Guidelines for the Operation of Animal Protection Centers’. However, the policy falls short as it only applies to animal shelters operated by local governments, and does not include the private animal shelters. This raises problems as it does not secure the lives of the animals under the protection of private organizations. Song Ji-sung, an activist from the Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA) explained, “There are only laws for when animal abuse takes place. This means that day to day guidelines about how the facility should be managed or how workers should these shelters.” Song continued: “Also, even for the laws that animal shelters operated by local governments do abide by, many do not have a binding force, especially with regards to enforcing the penalty of punitive fines.”
Additionally, in order to reduce the number of abandoned pets, produced in a so-called ‘dog factory’, and then sold in pet shops should be changed. Yim explained that “Currently, countries like Germany have a strict law that only allows pet adoption for families who can show that they really want pets rather than allowing anyone to adopt a pet without careful consideration. Accordingly, Korea should make strict regulations to lessen the number of mistreated pets.”
Yim also pointed out that, “All pet companies must clarify their responsibilities through a strict process of registering their company. In addition, ‘Petiquette’ (a shortened term for Pet + Etiquette) should be taught to everyone hoping to be a future pet owner.” In Korea, many animals are easily abandoned by their owners because the process in which these animals are bought can happen too quickly and easily. If the process gets more complicated, then those who previously bought the animals without much thought will be forced into deeper consideration before they purchase a pet.
There are ongoing discussions about the extent to which people should protect animals’ rights. For example, does it also refer to not killing animals for humans to consume meat? “The prohibition of dog meat being used as food and the total ban on the consumption of other animals, such as pigs and cows for food are the ultimate goals of some in the animal rights movement, but I do not think it is realistically possible. It would be more practical to reduce the frequency of eating them, and to use certified animal welfare approved livestock products,” said the representative of KARA.
Controversies in Animal Rights- The Practical Perspective
Meanwhile, on the practical side of controversies in animal rights, the death of the aforementioned puma had to happen due to the likelihood of it hurting a person. With the growing number of vegans in Korea and more citizens criticizing those who eat dog meat, Professor Park asks for a pluralistic and relativist position: “I do not think the problem is a matter of permission of whether eating dog meat should be allowed or not. It is more important to question whether our society respects the people who do not eat meat. For example, recently Seoul National University started offering a vegetarian buffet and halal foods to students, and I thought about how uncomfortable these people must have felt when there was no such service.”
With regards to not using animal products or eating meat, the issue can always have a possibility of making citizens turn away from animal rights. Song explained that “Going vegan or pursuing a pescatarian diet cannot be forced. These dietary decisions always have to remain a personal action that citizens can try if it is suitable for them. However, if going vegan is treated as an ideology rather than an action, then there are going to be conflicts.”
Animal Rights Abroad
Currently, the constitution of Korea states that animals are a subject of possession. Comparably, Germany, states that animals should be protected. Song asserts that “Setting Germany as an example, Korea should also describe the animals’ dignity of life and not treat them as objects in the constitution. Also, with regards to animal abuse, there are a lot of ambiguous laws in Korea. This lets people reinterpret the laws in a way that they want.” Making the ambiguous laws clearer and more detailed can help the animals. For example, by clearly stating in which situations the animals can be subjected to what some consider to be abusive treatment, and by specifying times when it is acceptable to use certain medical instruments.
How Should the Law Be Improved? What Kind of a Stance Should the People Take?
In order for these laws to be made and changed, there needs to be active participation from the people by signing a petition or joining a protest. Song said, “For policy lobbying to happen, we need at least 200,000 people. Out of the 10,000,000 people in Korea who own pets, only around 30,000 people are regularly participating.” Even though the number of people interested in animal rights issues has grown, Korea still lacks active participation.