MEPs call for ban on bushmeat imports

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The Independent Online

MEPs have demanded the introduction of an EU-wide ban on meat imports from endangered species, including panthers, elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees, after 1.9 million people called for action in a petition.

The trade in so-called bushmeat is blamed for the destruction of rare animals, deforestation and is thought to be linked to the spread of diseases such as HIV, Sars and Ebola to humans. According to MEPs, more than 1,000 tons of bushmeat are smuggled into the UK each year, with around 200 airport seizures a month. One consignment stopped at Amsterdam contained 2,000 chimpanzee noses, according to Glyn Ford, the Labour MEP and socialist group spokesman on the parliament's petitions committee.

Yesterday's vote by MEPs puts pressure on the European Commission to propose a new law, and the European Commissioner for development, Poul Nielson, has promised to review the issue.

Few subjects discussed by the Strasbourg-based parliament have aroused such passions. The petitions committee received an unprecedented 1.9 million signatures collected by conservation groups across the EU. Mr Ford said: "I have been involved with the petition committee ever since it was set up and I cannot remember a reaction like this."

The term bushmeat applies to animals taken as food from African forests and shrub land. Most of the hunting is done by subsistence farmers, but environmental groups accuse logging and mining companies of encouraging poaching. Demand for exotic meat is strong, particularly among African and Asian expatriates in Europe.

Roy Perry, a Conservative MEP and vice-president of the petitions committee, said: "There is a possibility that diseases that are widespread in parts of Africa could spread to Europe through the illegal smuggling of bushmeat."