Cows 'Too Old to Work' Slaughtered in North Korea For Their Meat

The practice is illegal, as beef is reserved for the country's elites and cows are needed on the farms.

Farmers tend their field near Rason, North Korea, in a file photo.

Defying nationwide restrictions on the slaughter of cattle for food, rural agencies in North Korea are quietly killing cows too old to work for sale as beef in local markets, North Korean sources say.

Though made readily available for North Korea’s ruling elite, beef is officially out of reach for the majority of the isolated, sanctions-hit country’s citizens, who subsist mostly on poultry or pork for their meat-sourced protein.

“But you can purchase as much beef as you want in local markets these days,” a Pyongyang resident who recently visited China told RFA’s Korean Service.

“Beef is not publicly displayed in markets like other products, but that doesn’t mean that we hide its availability,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

If beef is too openly displayed, though, police officers or market managers will seize the money earned from its sale, the source said.

Only those cows deemed too old to work in the fields are selected for the unauthorized slaughter, resulting in tough and low-quality beef that sells more cheaply than beef smuggled in from neighboring China, the source said.

“Chinese beef costs about 60 yuan [about U.S. $10] per kilogram [about 2.2 lbs], while North Korean beef sells for about 20 yuan [about U.S. $3.3] per kilogram,” the source said.

“North Korean beef doesn’t fetch even half the price of Chinese beef,” he said.

Not everyone can buy


Also speaking to RFA, a source in North Pyongan province’s Sinuiju city, across the Yalu river from China, said that Chinese beef is easier to find than North Korean beef in area markets there.

“It isn’t hard to buy Chinese beef in North Korean markets here,” the source said, also speaking on condition he not be named. “North Korean beef is not sold as commonly here in Sinuiju as it is in Pyongyang.”

Meanwhile, in Yanggang province, also bordering China, a source in Hyesan city said that North Korean beef can be bought at local markets “to which rural agencies have secretly sent butchered cows no longer able to work on the farms.”

Even at the lower prices being asked, though, not everyone who wishes can buy the meat, he said.

“For the 60 yuan price per kilogram being charged, you can also buy over 15 kilograms [about 33 lbs.] of rice.”

“Only the newly rich will be able to get their hands on the beef,” he said.

Reported by Joonho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jackie Yoo. Written in English by Richard Finney.