A long awaited and much welcomed amendment to the Korean Animal Protection Act passed in the 20th National Assembly plenary session on March 2nd. The revised act merged 15 propositions out of the 17 put forward, and was prepared as an alternative to the Agriculture, Food, Rural Affairs, Oceans, and Fisheries Committee. This is a victory for the animal rights movement, achieved in less than a year since the commencement of the 20th National Assembly in May 2016.
This is also a victory for the concerned citizens of Korea. After the reality of the horrors of puppy mills in Korea was broadcast on television, a petition for amendments to the Animal Protection Act garnered two million signatures in just two days, and was accompanied by a variety of civic movements such as protests in front of the capitol building. The movement to initiate amendments to the Animal Protection Act followed. Strong opposition from related industries and their activities against congress stalled the legislative progress for a while, however, ongoing civic consciousness towards animal protection moved the National Assembly and the law was finally revised.
Core Revisions to the Animal Protection Act
The animal production industry regulation has been changed from a registration system to a permit system. The animal production industry was first regulated in 2008 with a registration system, but the government relaxed the registration policy to an even simpler business declaration system in 2012. Unfortunately, the operation of the reduced regulatory system was broken. According to a 2015 report, only 187 businesses were legally declared, which left more than 80% of businesses remaining illegal.
In May 2016, the inhumane practices of the breeding industry, such as, but not limited to, unauthorized surgical operations, were revealed by a well-known television program, raising public awareness of the animal production industry. As a result, Congresswoman such as Han Jung Ae started proposing amendments, and asking to reinforce the law and to have a stronger permit system for the animal production industry. This amendment not only demanded that the animal production industry be licensed and administered under the law, but included pet-related industries such as animal exhibitions (animal cafés, etc.), and animal boarding, grooming and transport business, with a penalty of less than 5 million won for violation.
In addition, local governments are now obliged to report on inspections of animal production businesses to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs every year. The strengthened Animal Protection Act now also imposes a 3 year suspension for business owners who violate the law.
The revised law now defines animal abuse as “an act that leads to death,” revised from the existing law which defined it only as an “act of killing,” thereby making it possible to levy responsibility for actions that led to death, even though the intention was not to kill the animal. Also, the new law encompasses acts of causing physical pain to an animal; the previous law could only punish the act of injuring the animal. This revision is another big milestone, given previous cases where perpetrators were not punished simply because the animal had no signs of injury. Moreover, it is also encouraging that the definition of abuse has been extended to include the use of animals for gambling, the provision of prizes, or the act of lending. The punishment limit for animal abusers has also been extended from 10 million won or less and up to 1 year imprisonment, to 20 million won and up to 2 years imprisonment.
Important Omissions of the Amendment
However, it is frustrating to deal with the conflicts of interest inherent in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Agriculture, Food, Rural Affairs, Oceans, and Fisheries Committee which represent and regulate the industries that directly benefit from animal abuse. They also failed to accept proposals, which are important and specific terms in terms of animal mistreatment, such as “neglecting appropriate measures against hunger or disease,” which are already part of the laws of the majority of developed countries. In addition, congress opposed adding terms enforcing restrictions on animal ownership by animal abusers, and granting the public authority to anyone who witnesses animal abuse to isolate the animal from the owner (or the abuser) until public authority reaches the site. Thus, some blind spots in the animal protection law in Korea still remain.
It is regrettable that the proposals of Pyo Chang Won, the original petitioner, who provided detailed and in-depth proposals for the prevention of animal abuse, was not much reflected in congress. The government has accepted the implementation of a permit system for the animal production industry, but there are concerns that it will not be able to make good use of the law because it did not accept the detailed requirements of the permit system that many petitioners wanted. Therefore, the government should thoroughly regulate facility standards and animal welfare within the animal production industry to meet the existing permit requirements, and abide by the requests of the people enraged by the “puppy mill” case, as well as eliminate open floor cages.
Animal rights groups will continue to cooperate and keep up the legislative action to address the shortfalls of this revision.
Appreciation of Hard Work
Finally, we appreciate the members of the National Assembly who have worked to strengthen the amendment of the Animal Protection Act, and to Representative Kim Young Chun, Chairperson of the Agriculture, Forestry and Marine Affairs Committee. We are also grateful to the various members of the National Assembly who made the amendments possible, along with Representative Kim Han Jung, who listened to animal rights groups and citizens’ wishes for the amendment of the Animal Protection Act, and criticized the passive attitude of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
The above is a joint statement by CARE, Animal Groups Association Council, Korean Animal Welfare Association, KARA, and Busan Animal Abuse Prevention Association.