AR-News: Wild meat imports raise concern

jim robertson wolfcrest at
Sat Dec 20 02:54:55 EST 2003

Wild meat imports raise concern
Monkeys, rodents from Asia, Africa may harbor disease


ATLANTA -- Inspectors at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport, suspicious of 
a smoky odor wafting from the suitcase of a passenger arriving from Cameroon 
in central Africa, peered into her bag.

They were shocked by what they saw -- an entire smoked monkey. The meat, the 
woman said, was intended for a traditional wedding reception of some African 

"It was obviously a monkey, but we couldn't identify the species," said 
Patricia Rogers, a federal wildlife agent at the airport.

In August, two large monkey heads seized from a passenger arriving in 
Atlanta from Senegal apparently were intended for consumption by immigrants, 
authorities said.

Airport inspectors from New York to Hawaii are reporting similar findings as 
a demand for "bush meat," or wild animal flesh, mostly from Africa, 
increases in the United States. "We're probably seeing only the tip of the 
iceberg," said Mike Elkins, deputy wildlife agent in charge at the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service's regional office in Atlanta.

That has worried public health officials. The wild meat, they say, could 
harbor deadly microbes that could cause epidemics in humans, from Ebola to 
AIDS. "It certainly poses public health risks," said Dr. Paul Argwin, a 
global health specialist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and 

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year warned 
that many monkeys captured in Cameroon harbor a plethora of viruses that are 
close cousins of the AIDS virus. The microbes pose a major health risk to 
people who eat the animals, the report warned. Importation of non-human 
primates is prohibited under an international treaty.

This year, scientists linked the widespread consumption of wildlife in China 
to the outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a new and 
often fatal viral disease for humans that was rapidly spread by travelers 
from East Asia.

China, after tracing SARS to civet cats, in April banned the consumption and 
trading of wild animals in an effort to stop the disease's spread. But the 
restraints were eased in August to give economic relief to tens of thousands 
of vendors and restaurant workers put out of work by the ban.

Heightening U.S. concerns is an outbreak last spring of monkeypox, 
apparently from infected African rats. To guard against another outbreak, 
the CDC in June banned the importation of African rodents -- including 
rodent meat, popular as a delicacy among some immigrants.

Dangerous viruses can remain infectious in bush meat even after it is 
processed, the CDC warned: "Preparation methods such as smoking, salting, or 
brining may slow down bush meat's decay, but may not render bush meat free 
of infectious agents."

But even as the government intensifies efforts to curb illegal bush meat, 
smuggling of the illicit meat is rising, federal officials said.

In September, inspectors scrutinizing a Delta Air Lines cargo shipment found 
what they suspected was a commercial shipment of cane rat meat -- a favorite 
bush meat in central Africa -- labeled as "smoked fish," which are legal. 
The case is being investigated. Importing cane rat meat into the United 
States is prohibited because of monkeypox.

Random inspections of shipments coming into New York's John F. Kennedy 
International Airport resulted in 14 bush meat seizures in the weeks after 
the implementation of the African rodent ban last summer. One of those 
seizures included 600 pounds of rats, squirrels, bats and duiker, a small 
African antelope, from Ghana.

Driving the market is an unprecedented wave of immigrants from Africa, Asia 
and Latin America, authorities say. Immigrants who subsisted largely on bush 
meat and used it in cultural traditions want "a touch of home" when they 
move to the United States, said Sheila Einsweiler, chief of law enforcement 
for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Solid figures on the volume of bush meat entering the United States are hard 
to obtain. But wildlife authorities say they are probably intercepting only 
a fraction of what is coming in.

"The fact that bush meat (from Africa) is making it as far as the United 
States in large quantities is an indication of how dramatically 
commercialized it has become," said Heather Eves, head of the Bushmeat 
Crisis Task Force, set up in 1999 as an information clearinghouse for 
government agencies and organizations.

Public health issues aside, the bush meat trade also is devastating to 
African wildlife. In Central and West Africa, virtually every type of wild 
animal -- from cane rats and duikers to gorillas and elephants -- is hunted, 
frequently illegally, for food. As many as 5 million tons of bush meat are 
extracted from the basin each year, according to a report from the 
Zoological Society of London.


"A human can be healthy without killing animals for food. Therefore if he 
eats meat he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his 
appetite."   --Leo Tolstoy

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