Thursday, July 1, 2010


Human weakness for meat and other animal products has led to exploring many sources for their "edibility" and safety. Modern meat industry is built on stall fed livestock and caged birds and old timers still swear about the high quality of products derived from free grazing farm animals and country chickens before the advent of modern meat industry. Even to day people take immense pride for hunting wild animals in forests and angling fish from wild water sources which they consider as more tasty than the commercial counterparts. With international ban on hunting many species and national restrictions on shooting animals in protected sanctuaries, a roaring illegal trade in meat from some of the animals is reported to be flourishing and transport of these meat products from such animals across international borders, is aided by unethical nexus between the traders and the customs authorities.

"A team of researchers says the illicit trade could pose a risk to human or animal health and increase the demand for meat from threatened species. The figure is based on seizures from searches carried out over 17 days at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The findings appear in the journal Conservation Letters. A team of researchers from France, Cambodia and the UK said it was the "first systematic study of the scale and nature of this international trade". "We estimate that about five tonnes of bushmeat per week is smuggled in personal baggage through Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport," they wrote. During the 17-day study, a total of 134 passengers arriving on 29 flights from 14 African nations were searched. Nine people were found to be carrying bushmeat, which had a combined mass of 188kg. In total, 11 species were found - including two types of primates, two kinds of crocodiles and three rodent species - four of which were listed as protected species".

The report is alarming, raising doubts about the effectiveness of international agreements in saving many species under threat of extinction. Whether such illegal trade is confined to Africa as the source and Paris as the conduit center is not exactly clear. Probably France's connection to some of its former colonies and special status to people from such countries may be responsible for the illegal trade detected at Paris Airport. There is greater chance for such smuggling taking place in many entry points to Europe and it may be difficult to check personal baggage of international travelers by the security staff, already over burdened with terrorism related surveillance. What is not understood is the status of the fresh meat, highly vulnerable to bacterial infection, being ferried by the individual passengers in their cabin baggage, with respect to safety after it reaches the destination. Carrying fresh meat across borders is not permitted by any country and therefore most of the customs set ups at airports lack the facility to test the meat to determine the type of animal from which the meat is derived. It is time FAO of the UN steps in to help drawing protocols and equip the air port authorities in some of the vulnerable countries to deal with the new emerging threat from criminals who indulge in such illegal activities.


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