BATTLE TO HALT MENACE OF DEADLY BUSHMEAT TRADE
By Stuart Winter
The Sunday Express
October 31, 2004, p. 41
SIX sniffer dogs stand between Britain and a deadly influx of bushmeat infected with lethal jungle diseases.
The Labrador "detector dogs" are in the front line of a battle between Customs and smugglers flooding the country with putrid wild animal meat.
But with millions of travellers visiting the UK through scores of airports, sea ports and the Channel Tunnel, campaigners want tougher measures to stop the trade in monkey meat.
It is estimated that as much as 14,400 tons of illegal meat may enter the UK annually.
Flesh from gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys and scores of other creatures slaughtered in tropical forests have become highly-prized delicacies in Africa and Britain.
Besides the risk of introducing dreadful diseases such as the ebola virus - which dissolves victims' organs into bloody masses - and the newly-discovered simian foamy virus; the bushmeat trade also threats the very existence of the planet's last great apes.
Conservationists called on the Government yesterday to step up its fight against the smugglers with a wide range of measures, from more sniffer dogs to high-tech equipment.
It has been estimated that as many as 10 tons of African bush-meat reach London every day.
But while Britain is spending £24million over three years to stop illegal meat entering the country, Australia has announced a £246million package to strengthen its borders against exotic food pests and diseases.
This week the Government announced a new campaign to highlight the risks of bringing food into the country from outside the European Union, ranging from shellfish, honey eggs, fruit and veg to milk-based products and meat.
But conservationists fear that not enough is being done. Jenny Hawley, Wildlife Trade campaigner for the International Fund For Animal Welfare, said: "We welcome any new moves by the Government to stop illegal meat imports. However, Customs capacity is still grossly inadequate.
"There are now a total of six sniffer dogs operating in the whole of the UK, covering all ports and airports.
"We would like to see more sniffer dogs introduced and new technologies used, such as advanced remote detection systems, which give Customs information about baggage before it arrives in the country.
"Customs also has a responsibility to tackle illegal meat imports as a conservation issue, not just a health issue. Large-scale illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade represents another step towards extinction for many of the world's most endangered species."
International bushmeat campaigner Adam Matthews said: "While the Government has done much to improve efforts to tackle illegal meat and bushmeat imports, there remains a major challenge if we are to stop this dangerous trade."
Two years ago the Sunday Express highlighted the threat of bushmeat entering the UK by smugglers using Eurostar. It was estimated that between one and three per cent of illegal meat imports was being seized. But there are mounting fears that even more bushmeat will come on to the international market as prices soar.
An oil boom has caused a rise in endangered-animal killings, to feed the growing number of well-off Africans.
Bushmeat has long had a ready market in the UK. Earlier this year, a Ghanaian shopkeeper became the first person in Britain to be jailed for selling bushmeat after two tons of rotting meat were found at her mouse-infested store in Tottenham, North London.
Professor Nathan Wolfe, of America's Johns Hopkins University warned about the dangers of simian foamy virus in The Lancet medical journal this year He said: "We think viruses and other diseases are crossing between animals which are hunted and people who hunt."
A Customs spokesman said: "The UK is taking a lead across Europe as the first, and currently only, EU country with meat-detector dogs. We have six, and a further four will be deployed within the next few months.
"Customs also deploys X-ray machines and specialist mobile teams, and our 3,500-plus detection staff include illegal animal products among their responsibilities."