Figures obtained exclusively by the Korea Observer on Monday show that the number of horses slaughtered in the country has tripled from 315 in 2003 to 1,036 in 2014.
“The government will promote the consumption of horses by making and distributing a wide range of horse meat recipes and hosting horse meat tasting events,” a press release by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs reads.
From the government’s point of view, the horse meat industry is a niche market that can grow fast and bring extra revenue to horse breeders.
“The horse meat industry can become a potential blue ocean, which might be able to revive the domestic rural economy,” a spokesman for Korea Racing Authority (KRA) said.
“The most important thing at this moment is to increase the supply of horse meat.”
Horse meat is currently sold at around 60 percent of the price of Korean beef and can be purchased online as well.
An official at the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency claims that horses are slaughtered in the same manner as cows and he sees no reason that horses should be treated differently from other animals that people eat.
“Once they faint, we shoot a metal rod into their brain.”
The number of horses slaughtered in Korea surpassed 1,000 for the first time in 2014.
Nearly 85 percent of the horses are raised and slaughtered on Jeju Island where you can find more than 50 restaurants specializing in horse meat cuisine.
“It is safe to say that nearly all of the slaughtered horses are for human consumption,” a senior official at a slaughter house in Jeju said.
For now, the public’s opinion is on the government’s side. A survey carried out by the KRA last year found that 65.1 percent of Koreans are willing to eat horse meat.
The KRA argues that Koreans are more positive about eating horse meat than people in France, Belgium and Italy.
Fifty percent of French reacted positively when asked if they would eat horse meat, followed by Belgians with 51 percent and Italians with 58 percent.
It is not difficult to find blog or social media posts by Koreans who strongly recommend horse meat. Many of them say horse meat tastes like beef but is more nutritious and has less fat.
In Korea, it is also common to eat raw horse meat like sushi.
Animal rights groups, however, argue that the government should ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
“The horse is one of the species that humans tend to bond with so consuming horse as meat will create uneasiness,” Cho Hee-Kyung, Executive Director of the Korean Animal Welfare Association, said
She argues that the government also lack technologies and systems to effectively oversee the transport of horses for slaughter.