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Black swans are rare, ornamental birds. Photo: Anadolu Agency

North Korea farms black swans, rabbits, catfish as food crisis leaves Kim feeling like he’s ‘walking on ice’

  • State media have hailed the water birds as a valuable food source that’s ‘delicious and has medicinal value’
  • The country’s dire food shortages have recently led China and Russia to push the UN to ease sanctions on Pyongyang
North Korea

North Korea has been touting the health benefits of black swan meat, farming rabbits and raising catfish in rice paddies, as severe food shortages force officials to promote creative solutions to feed the population, according to state media.

The Rodong Sinmun and DPRK Today newspapers recently hailed black swan meat as a valuable food source, highlighting not only its nutritional value as a rich protein source but its “anti-carcinogenic” effects.

“Black swans are rare, ornamental birds. Their meat is delicious and has medicinal value,” the Rodong Sinmun said last week. “Foundations have been laid to breed them on an industrial scale in order to actively contribute to improving people’s living standards.”


North Korea breeds black swans for meat to tackle food shortages

North Korea breeds black swans for meat to tackle food shortages

Black swans have previously only been mentioned in the North’s state media as subjects of academic research or in relation to news about the Central Zoo in Pyongyang.

“Their meat contains immunoglobulin, linoleic acid and anti-carcinogenic materials that are hardly found in other sorts of meat,” DPRK Today quoted an official of a black swan farm in the northeastern Jongpyong County as saying.

The black swan is a large water bird that is mainly found in the southeast and southwest regions of Australia.

I’ve never heard of black swans being bred for human consumption in the rest of the world
Bing Ji-chang, Ornithology Society of Korea

Bing Ji-chang, general secretary of South Korea’s Ornithology Society of Korea, said he believed the farming of black swans for food was the first of its kind.

“I’ve never heard of black swans being bred for human consumption in the rest of the world,” he told This Week in Asia. “But I don’t think there will be any problems with breeding them and consuming their meat, as their nutritional values should be as good as those of other water birds.”

Because they are so rare, black swans have become a status symbol, but their colour means they are often connected to dark qualities. In European mythology and during the 18th and 19th centuries, black swans were perceived to be sent by the devil, as were other black animals, including cats.

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The move to start a black swan meat trade is one of many unusual measures North Korea is taking to increase food supplies at a time the impoverished socialist state is facing a triple whammy of international sanctions, the Covid-19 pandemic that has shut borders with lifeline ally China, and domestic floods.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has acknowledged the “tense” food situation and apologised for sacrifices citizens had to make to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

He recently issued an order to mobilise all able-bodied men to harvest the last available grain, and said food problems were causing him to feel as if he were “walking on a thinly-frozen river”, according to the South Korean spy agency’s report to the National Assembly last week.

In July last year, North Korean soldiers and their families were ordered to raise rabbits, the DailyNK website said.


Kim Jong-un admits North Korean economy is ‘grim’ while pledging to build ‘invincible military’

Kim Jong-un admits North Korean economy is ‘grim’ while pledging to build ‘invincible military’
The humanitarian crisis has prompted China and Russia to push the UN Security Council to ease sanctions by reviving a 2019 attempt to remove a ban on Pyongyang’s exports of statues, seafood and textiles, and expanding it to include lifting a refined petroleum imports cap.
In a reworked draft resolution, seen by Reuters on Monday, China and Russia want the 15-member council to remove those sanctions “with the intent of enhancing the livelihood of the civilian population” in North Korea.

Pyongyang has been subject to UN sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

“It has always been China’s will that we should also address the humanitarian dimension caused by the sanctions imposed by the Security Council,” China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters last month, adding again that the 2019 draft resolution “remains on the table”.

Additional reporting by Reuters