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Health risk from smuggled meat

22nd June 2010

African bushmeat has a thriving black market in Europe, implying possible public health risks, according to a recent French study.


The researchers found that monkey carcasses, smoked anteater, and preserved porcupine were all widely available in certain parts of Paris, and they estimate that five tonnes of bushmeat enter the city every week.

Under the laws of many African countries, people are allowed to hunt bushmeat as long as the animals are not endangered.

However, nearly half of the animals seized during the study were endangered species.

Moreover, bushmeat is a potential health hazard, not only for the people who eat it, but also for the general population.

Animals often carry new viruses such as the one responsible for China's outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) several years ago, and there is no way to regulate the bushmeat trade.

Experts suspect that similar amounts of bushmeat enter other European transport hubs, and that some of the meat may be contaminated with diseases such as monkeypox and Ebola.

Nina Marano, chief of the quarantine unit at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that a similar market for unregulated bushmeat existed in the US.

The price of the meat is quite high, and some of it costs as much as 30 euros per kilo.

For the purposes of the study, European experts checked 29 Air France flights over a 17-day period in 2008.

All of the flights originated in Central and West Africa, and all of them landed at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.

The experts searched 134 people and found that nine were carrying bushmeat in quantities as high as 51 kilos, with no other luggage.

In total, the experts identified 11 types of bushmeat.

Most of the bushmeat was smoked, in the form of dried carcasses.

Scientists could not identify some of the animals that were seized, but they boiled the carcasses, using the animals' skeletons to identify different species.

The various types of bushmeat included monkeys, large rats, crocodiles, small antelopes, and anteaters.

The researchers said that the penalty for importing illegal meat into France was not very heavy, and that people usually did not have to pay the 450 euro maximum fine for importing bushmeat.

Of the people whose luggage was searched during the course of the study, only one person carrying bushmeat was fined at all.

Malcolm Bennett, of Britain's National Centre for Zoonosis Research at the University of Liverpool, who was not involved in the study, said that people who had intimate contact with wild animals may be exposed to a whole range of diseases.

Madame Toukine, an African woman in her 50s, said she received special deliveries of crocodile and other bushmeat each weekend at her green and yellow shop off the Rue des Poissonieres market in Paris.

Hassan Kaouti, a local butcher, said that everyone knew where bushmeat was sold, but that people did not talk about the legality of buying the meat.

In Central and West African countries such as the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and the Republic of Congo, bushmeat is people's main source of protein.

Bushmeat hunting has caused several major outbreaks of ebola in the Republic of Congo, although it is widespread there.


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Article Information

Title: Health risk from smuggled meat
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 15245
Date Added: 22nd Jun 2010


BBC News

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