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BBC TwoCooking in the Danger Zone

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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Stefan's diary: South Korea
I'd only been in South Korea for a few hours, but already I had three TV crews following me around - two from Seoul and the one I'd brought from London.

Producer Alex Mackintosh (left) filming Stefan Gates (right)
Stefan asks the question: Is there anything wrong with eating dog?

I'm not a footballer or a rock star and I hadn't done anything wrong or particularly interesting. It was what I intended to do that made me an international news story - I'd come to eat dog.

But I wasn't just going to dive in.

First I wanted to find out how the dogs were raised, bought, sold and cooked, and why they are so popular.

It all turned into quite a fuss, with protest calls and e-mails from all corners and a summons from the Korean embassy.

And this was before I'd even decided if I really could bring myself to eat it.

Dog farm

Let's get one thing out of the way: I don't see anything particularly wrong with eating dog.

I'm not a nasty person - I have no innate desire to upset animal lovers and I won't steal your schnauzer if you invite me for supper - I just think that if you've resolved the moral and emotional complexities of carnivorousness to eat cows, pigs, and chickens, then you should be able to eat pretty much anything, as long as it's lived a decent life.

Dog in a cage
They weren't treated as pets in any way but I'd still defy anyone not to feel a natural affection for them

However, my culinary sophistry hadn't prepared me for the visceral realities of walking into a dog farm, compounded as it was by the glare of the world's media.

Each cage housed two or three dogs with a modest amount of room for them to run around - they weren't free range, but neither were they battery-farmed.

The cages were raised from the ground so that excrement fell through the bottom.

There were no concessions to comfort, no toys, no beds and no names.

They weren't treated as pets in any way, but I'd still defy anyone not to feel a natural affection for them.

They wagged their tails, tried to lick me and ran about, barking excitedly.

'Unwritten moral contract'

So was this really bad animal husbandry?

Well, call me heartless, but I'm not so sure.

It certainly wasn't bucolic bliss and the smell wasn't nice, but the dogs were very healthy, well fed and, if tail wagging is a good indicator, they seemed happy.

Many played with their cage mates.

It was a shock to see animals I viewed as pets being raised this dispassionately but the psychological assumptions I'd made - that they need treats, love and human affection - were tempered by the fact that these were livestock and had always been treated as such.

In the unwritten moral contract between myself and the meat that I eat, animals should be raised decently, kept healthy and happy, and slaughtered humanely.

I'm not over the moon about animals being raised entirely indoors (though it was freezing cold to be outside on the day we visited) but there's no question that the 24 million chickens we keep in battery farms in the UK endure far worse conditions than these dogs did.

And don't get me started on indoor-reared intensively-farmed pigs and farrowing pens.

'Industry in limbo'

South Koreans eat around three million dogs a year.

It's regarded as a traditional medicine and a cornerstone of the culture, which is why it's still so popular despite international outrage.

One of the main accusations levelled at the industry by protesters is that dogs are maltreated, then deliberately tortured and beaten to death in order to get more adrenaline into their flesh to make it taste better.

Stefan examines the 'execution chamber'
They showed me their slaughter method... a rusty steel cage wired up to the mains

It's a shocking idea, but what I'd seen so far didn't bear it out and I was sceptical about the torture.

The farmer made it brutally simple. He said: "Look, torturing dogs to death used to happen years ago, but these days it just doesn't make economic sense."

This is an industry in limbo.

The regulations governing dog meat sales were removed following Western outcries around the time of the Seoul Olympics and the 2002 World Cup, theoretically making it illegal.

But as soon as the events were over, the farms and restaurants brazenly reappeared. Only this time, they were unregulated.

And that's the way it has stayed.

The industry sits outside all the rules for welfare, slaughter and hygiene that govern other livestock.

No South Korean politician dares risk international opprobrium by regulating the industry, yet no-one is prepared to ban it, which may drive the industry underground and, more importantly, lose nationalist votes.

And so three million dogs every year live and die outside the system.

Violent handling

We visited another farm, and this time things began to go awry.

These dogs were kept in disgusting conditions, outside in the freezing cold.

Dogs squashed into cages
Dogs were crammed into tiny cages with no room to move

They were ragged, terrified and unhealthy, many sitting in piles of their own excrement.

They showed me their slaughter method.

It was a rusty steel cage, which they basically wired up to the mains.

Apparently the dogs take three or four seconds to die.

An auction was going on and the dogs were violently handled and jammed three to a tiny crate.

They had no room to move and were clearly terrified.

I asked why the dogs were treated so badly.

"Otherwise they'll bite us," the buyers said.

I've never witnessed such treatment of animals and there's no question - I could never eat meat that had been raised in these conditions.

Final scene

At the end of the fortnight, I invited the TV news crews to join me at a dog restaurant to meet the farmer from the decent dog farm.

He'd brought meat from some of his animals and he cooked it in front of me.

Dog stew
The final scene shows me sitting in front of a steaming bowl of dog that smelled like a deep, rich, peppery pork stew

You boil it for several hours, and then put it in a pan with vegetables, stock and red pepper sauce. This is served at the table on a gas burner.

And there I sat, still undecided as to whether or not I could bring myself to eat it.

This film may well upset a lot of people.

The final scene shows me sitting in front of a steaming bowl of dog that smelled like a deep, rich, peppery pork stew.

I sit cross-legged next to the "good dog farmer", still undecided whether or not to tuck in, and I say the ominous words: "I think it's OK to eat dog".

Some people will agree with what happened next and others will be appalled, but I can't tell you what my decision was - you'll have to watch the film.

All I can say is that, just like the dog meat industry itself, it wasn't pretty.


SEE ALSO
Country profile: South Korea
14 Mar 07 |  Country profiles

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