The meat and poultry farm that has served Kim Jong Un and the earlier two generations of North Korea’s ruling family is selling chicken embryos as “nutritional supplements” and selling beef on the black market to fill holes in a budget hit hard by the coronavirus, sources in the country told RFA.
The Ungok Ranch, outside the capital Pyongyang in South Pyongan province, has been raising high-quality meat for the country’s leadership since the era of Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung, who ruled from 1948 until 1994.
Even that high-priority ruling party expenditure, however, is under pressure after nearly 18 months without trade with China after the two neighbors closed their border in January 2020 to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ungok Ranch is directly run by the central party and tasked with producing meat for Kim Jong Un and the highest-ranking officials, using “cutting edge technology to raise cows, pigs, and chickens to produce germ-free meat for the Highest Dignity,” said a resident knowledgeable about the situation at the farm from the province’s Unsan county, using an honorific term for Kim.
“Right now at Ungok, though, the central party is providing operating costs only for the chairman’s farm, the one that produces meat for Kim Jong Un. The other farms that raise animals for high-ranking officials have to cover their own costs,” the source told RFA’s Korean Service.
Authorities have warned the people to prepare for a situation worse than the 1994-1998 North Korean famine, during which millions died of starvation. But the ranch is expected to provide meat to the elites, the only North Koreans who regularly eat meat, so it has had to find creative ways to stay afloat without government support.
“Recently eggs that have failed to hatch are being sold at local markets. The eggs are advertised as nutritional supplements that come from a chicken processing factory of Ungok Ranch, and are sold at a high price,” another source, a resident of the city of Anju in South Pyongan told RFA last week.
“Sellers who get the dud eggs boil and sell them individually, saying that they are good for tuberculosis or hepatitis patients,” said the Anju source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
Eggs that fail to hatch can be rotten or contain chicken embryos or fetuses in varying stages of development, depending on when in the 21-day incubation period the egg deteriorated.
Fertilized developing embryos, often duck, boiled and eaten from the shell is a popular street food in parts of southern China and Southeast Asian countries.
“I am a TB patient, so I bought one and cracked it open only to find an unhatched chick, with developed feet even, wrapped in a white membrane,” the Anju source said.
The duds go for about 3,000 won (U.S. $0.38), while unfertilized eggs go for 1,000 won ($0.13), according to the Anju source.
“Eggs that fail to hatch are three times the price of a normal egg and the ill and weak will eat them because they are believed to be beneficial for general health,” the Anju resident said.
The dud eggs come from all but the chairman’s farm at Ungok Ranch, and most people who buy and sell them know this, according to the Unsan source.
“They label all the unhatched eggs as male and classify them as health supplements before handing them over to the market. This helps with their operating expenses,” the Unsan source said.
“Ungok Ranch isn’t only selling these failed eggs to make operating expenses, they are also selling precious beef on the open market at a time when most people wouldn’t be able to buy it with all the money they have,” added the Unsan resident.
The beef intended for government elites can never be sold on the open market, but the Unsan source said that Ungok can forge documents saying the cow was diseased, which would be a crime if the farm was not associated with the central party.
“They can then butcher the cow and sell it to the rich at a high price in U.S. dollars,” the Unsan source said.
“Beef from the Ungok Ranch is not available at local markets because it is so expensive due to its tenderness and good taste… Instead, it is traded on the black market and only the wealthy can afford it,” said the Unsan source.
The beef goes for $10 per kilogram (2.2 lbs.), according to the Unsan source.
“That’s five times the price of one kilogram of pork and more than one month’s food budget for a low-income person. How many people do you think could afford such extravagance?”
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jinha Shin. Written in English by Eugene Whong.