Fear of imported disease as tons of smuggled food seized from luggage

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The Independent Online

Large amounts of bushmeat appear to be coming into Britain illegally, while two London traders have been prosecuted for selling it.

Concern is growing that the meat could be a means of entry to the UK for exotic animal or human diseases (foot-and-mouth is believed to have come from abroad). Two weeks ago, a spot check at Heathrow on a flight from Africa revealed 300kg of meat in passengers' luggage. A similar check at Gatwick found 100kg on another flight from Africa.

In 2000, 14 spot checks on UK-bound flights discovered a total of five tons of smuggled meat; sometimes blood is seen dripping from suitcases.

Although there is no way of telling for certain without expensive DNA analysis, much of the smuggled meat is believed to be bushmeat, virtually all of it illegal. Trade in products of endangered species such as gorillas and chimpanzees is against international law.

Last May a trader in Dalston, northeast London, was jailed with his girlfriend for selling meat from an endangered African monkey species in his shop. Mobolaji Osakuade, who boasted he could import chimpanzee meat or even the carcass of a whole lion from Nigeria for £5,000, was given four months in prison for selling parts of a tantalus monkey.

He told the court that many African shops in Britain sold bushmeat. In September, another London trader, Misanki Matudi, was given a conditional discharge after being found with the carcasses of 11 monkeys and two anteaters.

Calls are increasing for security and spot checks at airports to be stepped up to stop the trade.

Ben Gill, the president of the National Farmers' Union, feels that not enough is being done. He warned that there was a great risk of importing more animal diseases.

"A year after foot-and-mouth, all we've had is a new set of posters go up at airports telling people not to bring meat into Britain. To say we are very worried is an understatement," Mr Gill said.