Extract from File on 4 Radio 4 Tuesday 26th October 2004
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA, has overall responsibility for illegal food imports. Its latest annual review highlights the increase in the number of seizures. It says it expects them to increase as the deterrent effect of the Governmentís policies begin to bite.
I went through the figures with the Environment Minister, Elliot Morley.
The deterrent you talk about adds up to the seizure of less than one per cent of illegal meat imports. So ninety nine point four per cent of illegal meat imports are getting through.
Elliot Morley MP: Thatís an assumption and, and I donít quite know how you come to that figure.
AS: These are your figures.
EM: Well Iím not sure it says itís one per cent.
AS: Well if you, if you actually look at the total meat seized itís seventy-three tonnes.
EM: Yes thatís right.AS: The Governmentís own estimate of illegal meat that comes into the country is twelve
EM: Yes, we have to bear in mind that this is at airports and in terms of the, the overall quantities of illegal meat the bulk of that will, is, probably, large scale illegal fraud that comes in through border inspection posts, that youíre talking there of, of container loads of meat. Now they have been seized as well. Now they arenít in those figures that youíre quoting there because theyíre at points of entry at airports.
AS: I, Iím not quite with you there. Are you saying that basically more meat is seized than you actually state in your own report?
EM: Well I, Iím not quite sure to be honest with you what report youíre referring to there.
AS: Iím actually looking at the figures, and Iíll read from the cover, ďThe annual review of controls on imports of animal products: April 2003 to March 2004: DEFRA.Ē
EM: I, I havenít got that report. Iím terribly sorry.
AS: Contrary to what the Minister said DEFRA officials later confirmed that the report includes figures for all illegal meat seizures, air and sea. The report also states that the vast majority of seizures made by Customs are of small quantity from the travelling public.
This is not the experience of Clive Lawrence. Up until seven months ago he was the main contractor responsible for the transport of all organic material, animal or plant, legal or illegal, arriving at Heathrow Airport. He believes tonnes of bush meat enter the country every month, smuggled in on flights....
AS: This testimony adds to a growing body of evidence of the nature and scale of the import, not only of the meat of endangered species but the involvement of organised criminal gangs. I put this point to the Environment Minister, Elliot Morley.
Weíve been told by the Metropolitan Police that they believe people whoíre involved in trafficking bush meat that theyíve got connections between that and the Adam torso murder. Theyíre talking about really serious organised crime.
Elliot Morley: Oh, thereís no two ways about that. Those people who are involved in this kind of illegal trafficking, they are linked to organised crime. And those people who are involved in that kind of, of area of activity are very unpleasant, nasty people and they are hardened criminals.
AS: Well whoís doing anything about it?
EM: The, the fact that the police, I mean Iíve mentioned it to you, makes it very clear that action is being taken. Some people have been put in prison for this activity, for the first time in this country I might say. And I understand that the, the Customs so far this year have brought four successful prosecutions in relation to smuggling.
AS: One of these was a man bringing in raw turkey and chicken from New York; another a woman from Gambia who attempted to smuggle in goat meat and fish. She was fined a hundred and fifty pounds and ordered to pay a hundred and forty pounds costs.
Critics argue that the authorities are failing to stem the flow of bush meat into this country. But if theyíre failing here what of the African states?
NW: You know, what we know is that we have a retrovirus which is crossing the boundary, itís crossing this bridge into human populations. Thatís what we know. We know retroviruses have the potential to spread globally because thatís whatís happened with HIV. Itís spread throughout the world. Whether or not this particular virus, Simian foamy virus, is, has the ability to be transmitted or not we donít know. Itís at our own peril that we donít examine this.
AS: So the stakes are rising. This is potentially an issue of huge international repercussions.
The Environment Minister, Elliot Morley, speaking on behalf of the Government, told me he was aware of these developments.
Elliot Morley MP: There has been no evidence of any of these kind of viruses coming into the UK in terms of what bush meat has been seized. But nevertheless it is a worry, and apart from the, the impact on biodiversity you do have to be aware that there are potential risks to humans as well.
AS: So whatís our Government doing to, to address this problem, address the fact that we could be looking, potentially, at another Aid type catastrophe spreading across the globe?
EM: Well as I say there, thereís no evidence of that coming in, into the UK. But nevertheless we, we canít be complacent about these things and we must be on our guard.
AS: Our understanding is that the Department for International Development has been actually reducing funding, pulling out of natural resource projects, the type of project working to stop hunting.
EM: Itís not so much that theyíve reduced spending, theyíve put spending into, into other areas. And what theyíve been doing is putting money in, into governance issues, into strengthening organisation. But they do put quite a lot of money into forest management and, in terms of poverty alleviation, thereís a number of big projects that they have. And that also includes the bush meat issue.
AS: But the hunting continues. The bush meat trade is a complex issue. The driving force is a mix of poverty and greed. It involves organised crime. There are obvious and serious risks of the spread of disease to both the human population and domestic livestock on a global scale.
As the academics say: we ignore this at our peril.