Officials in the South Korean capital Seoul said Monday they will launch their first health inspection of illegal dog meat restaurants this month.
From late April, the city plans to take dog meat samples from about 530 such restaurants to examine whether they contain heavy metals or other harmful substances.
"We do not intend to regulate the selling of dog meat but to examine their safety," a food safety official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The city will conduct regular inspections, publicise a list of restaurants that serve unhealthy dog meat and suspend their operations, he said.
Such restaurants are technically illegal. To avoid adverse publicity before the 1988 Olympics, the city banned dog meat and snake meat as "abhorrent food."
But the order is now largely ignored.
"Many citizens enjoy dog meat despite the ban. But there have been no hygiene regulations on their slaughter and trade because dogs are not classed as livestock," the official said.
The city government has proposed reclassifying dogs as livestock so it can set food safety standards.
But the proposal, which will be sent to the central government next month, has sparked angry reactions from animal rights activists, who staged street protests and launched online signature campaigns.
"Our inspection is not related to the proposal. But we still hope to push for the reclassification if a majority supports it," the official said.
Dog soup, called boshintang (health soup), is a Korean summer delicacy.
Somewhere between two and four million dogs are consumed in South Korea every year, but the slaughtering and processing is carried out in dirty environments and poses a risks to diners' health.