Food Crime and Food Safety: Trading in Bushmeat—Is New Legislation Needed?

AuthorJohn Pointing
Date01 February 2005
Published date01 February 2005
Subject MatterComment
Food Crime and Food Safety: Trading in
BushmeatIs New Legislation Needed?
John Pointing*
The trade in bushmeat
Food safety professionals are becoming increasingly concerned about
the number of serious food offences carried out by organised criminals.1
These include the illegal introduction into the food chain of meat that is
unt for human consumption, such as reprocessed chicken sludge that
has been bleached and treated to resemble something palatable. Also
frequently reported is the ourishing trade in smokies’—unhygienic
and illegally slaughtered sheep in which the viscera are retained, the
skin left on and the carcass treated with a blow lamp to give it the desired
smoky avour. This type of crime produces huge prots for the food
criminals and creates a high risk of serious outbreaks of food poisoning
and longer-term threats to public health.
The trade in bushmeat poses similar health risks and offers opportuni-
ties to entrepreneurs, both at home and abroad, to make large amounts
of money illegally, with a very low chance of being caught and then
prosecuted. Wild animals killed and then crudely processed in the
African forest and scrub land, and ending up on the dining tables of
expatriate Africans residing in the USA, Britain and other EU states,
present a serious problem for a number of agencies both at home and
abroad. This trade covers both relatively common species, such as cane
rats and antelopes, and endangered ones, including gorillas, chimpan-
zees, and giraffes.2Enforcement agencies at every stage of the process
lag behind the food criminals.
The volume of imports is a sensitive issue for the port health author-
ities and HM Customs and Excise: the agencies responsible for prevent-
ing the entry of illegal meat products into the UK. The customs
authorities do not provide information about the extent of seizures at
ports of entry.3Figures produced by Defra, covering the period from
April 2001 to 17 January 2003, indicate that a total of 4,065 kg of
bushmeat was seized from ports in the UK, representing 2.5 per cent of
all seizures of meat products.4But seizures represent only a tiny propor-
tion of illegal imports. Estimates are hard to substantiate and should be
* Barrister, Field Court Chambers, 3 Field Court, Grays Inn, London WC1R 5EP and
Senior Lecturer, Kingston University.
1 The weekly magazine of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health,
Environmental Health News, regularly reports on such cases.
2Independent, 15 January 2004.
3 HM Customs and Excise took over responsibility for monitoring the import of meat
products from Defra in April 2003. According to its press ofce (commenting in
June 2004), no statistics are publicly available on seizures of bushmeat or any meat
products and there are no plans to provide them in the future.
4Hansard, House of Commons Written Answers for 4 February 2003, Mr Morley.

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