Following an order by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the country’s Central Committee recently instructed party, administrative and judicial authorities to clamp down on individuals illegally owning, selling, or butchering working cows, Daily NK has learned.

The order appears to be aimed at preventing citizens from arbitrarily “disposing of” working cows, known as burimso, which are considered state property and important for boosting agricultural productivity.

“The Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un] issued an order stating that burimso are not to be owned or disposed of by individuals without approval from a state agency,” a North Korean source told Daily NK on Friday. “The Central Committee handed down the directive to Party, administrative and judicial authorities on Sept. 11.” 

According to the source, the party’s Agriculture Bureau and the Cabinet’s Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) received reports from around the country over the last several years suggesting that there has been an increase in the number of burimso calves not registered with the state and that the cows have been increasingly slaughtered and sold in the black market. Based on these reports, the agencies submitted a petition to the Central Committee calling for efforts to rectify these issues.  

The crux of the problem, according to the source, appears to be connected with the implementation of the Field Responsibility System, which allows families to effectively break away from the collective farm system and act as small-scale agricultural work units. After the implementation of the system, however, collective farms failed to effectively manage burimso that had been assigned to each work unit. This, the source said, made people mistakenly believe that the cows had become their own private property. 

The Field Management System was implemented after Kim Jong Un announced the so-called “new economic management system in our own style” in 2012. The system reduced sub-work teams, the lowest-ranking organization on collective farms, into family work teams made up of three to five people. The goal of this change was to increase agricultural production by relaxing the constraints of the collective farming system and giving farmers autonomy over what to do with a portion of what they produced. 

After the introduction of the Field Management System at some of the country’s collective farms, burimso registered with the farms were assigned to family work teams, which were told to manage the cows on their own. As this practice became more widespread, many farmers came to regard burimso as personal property, the source said. 


Following the petition, North Korea’s central authorities appear to have moved to action to combat this phenomenon, likely because agriculture is a major focus of the country’s “frontal breakthrough campaign” and because of the regime’s interest in increasing agricultural production.

While pointing out that people are treating state property arbitrarily, the Central Committee’s order warned that ownership, slaughtering and selling burimso without permission will be viewed as “infringement on state property” and subject to party, administrative or legal punishment.

working cows
A working cow in Yanggang Province. / Image: Daily NK

The order directed collective farms to accurately register burimso under their purview with provincial, municipal and county rural management committees, and instructed government agencies to implement a strict system of management over the animals. 

The order made it clear that burimso may only be destroyed after obtaining a diagnosis from a veterinarian and approval from party, administrative and judicial authorities in charge of the farm in question. The order also mentioned that the authorities will treat the “arbitrary disposal” of burimso as a crime.

Notably, judicial authorities were instructed to issue stronger punishments than before for the crime of illegally slaughtering and selling burimso at local markets without state approval.

“In the past, people would receive five years in a correctional labor facility for each burimso they slaughtered, lifetime sentences in prison for slaughtering four animals, and the death penalty for killing any more than that,” the source explained. “The latest order comes into force from Oct. 1 and states that perpetrators will receive a seven-year prison term for each burimso slaughtered, with the death penalty applied to those who kill four or more animals.”

In the wake of this latest order, North Koreans are reportedly lamenting the fact that it will be even more difficult to eat beef, which is already a rare commodity. Farmers believe that farms will struggle to properly feed burimso if they are placed under the management of farms rather than individuals, making them less useful for farm work. Farmers are also complaining that the government should instead focus on upgrading farm equipment, according to the source. 

Officials at some livestock farms are angry that they have been unfairly targeted by the order, claiming that they have never arbitrarily disposed of the cows; instead, they claim that the burimso they have raised have either been gifted to Kim Jong Un or taken away from them by the Central Committee.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to