Editor Justin Brashares
The scale of illegal meat importation from Africa to Europe via Paris
Article first published online: 7 JUN 2010
©2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Volume 3, Issue 5, pages 317–321, September 2010
How to Cite
Chaber, A.-L., Allebone-Webb, S., Lignereux, Y., Cunningham, A. A. and Marcus Rowcliffe, J. (2010), The scale of illegal meat importation from Africa to Europe via Paris. Conservation Letters, 3: 317–321. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2010.00121.x
- Issue published online: 7 JUN 2010
- Article first published online: 7 JUN 2010
- Received , 15 October 2009 , Accepted , 26 April 2010
- illegal imports;
- wildlife trade
Concerns have been raised about the illegal import of bushmeat from Africa into Europe, particularly regarding the health risks posed to people and livestock. The role of international trade in driving unsustainable hunting in source countries is unknown, but generally assumed to be limited. Here, we present the first systematic study of the scale and nature of this international trade. We estimate that around five tonnes of bushmeat per week is smuggled in personal baggage through Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. Bushmeat is not only imported for personal consumption but is part of a lucrative organized trade, with high prices indicating luxury status. A wide range of species is carried, many of which are CITES-listed. Based on these findings, we suggest ways in which customs, airlines, and airport authorities could reduce imports, focussing on raising awareness of regulations, and improving surveillance and deterrence, particularly where CITES-listed species are concerned.
Bushmeat (the meat of wild animals) is an important component of trade, diet, and culture in many parts of the world (Milner-Gulland et al. 2003). However, unsustainable hunting for bushmeat is a leading threat to many of the species concerned, and there is a need to reduce the pressure that hunting imposes on tropical wildlife populations (Bennett et al. 2002). While there is anecdotal evidence of international trade in bushmeat, including seizures of African bushmeat at airports, and the occasional prosecution of traders in European cities, it is a neglected aspect of the issue. International trade is of concern for two primary reasons. First, it might be contributing to unsustainable demand, exacerbating the overexploitation of source populations. Second, the international movement of animal products, including bushmeat, is likely to pose a threat to human and animal health through the introduction of pathogens. Bushmeat is of particular concern here, since it is illegal and therefore falls entirely outside the normal regulatory procedures.
The international carriage of uncertified meat and fish products is illegal for sanitary reasons under national, European Union, and International Air Transport Association regulations. For example, the European Union prohibits any personal consignment of meat, or meat products, from entering the Union unless specifically authorized and certified as being eligible for import (EC Regulation 745/2004 of 16 April 2004). In addition, international trade in many wild species and their products is prohibited or regulated for conservation reasons under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Many species used as bushmeat, including all primates, are subject to CITES regulations (http://www.cites.org). Despite this regulatory framework, enforcement of the rules is patchy due to the difficulty of detection, and it is likely that substantial volumes of bushmeat and other animal products continue to enter Europe undetected. However, there have been few attempts to establish how this international trade operates, and there is currently no published research estimating the amounts of illegally transported meat and fish.
Here, we report the results of a systematic survey of customs seizures of bushmeat, livestock meat, and fish carried by passengers arriving from sub-Saharan Africa at Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, from which we estimate the total volumes being carried. We then focus particularly on the bushmeat component of imports, describing the species involved, and investigating how the meat is traded after it leaves the airport. Finally, we highlight further research needs stemming from our findings, and discuss their implications for policy options to alleviate the problem.
Airport data collection and estimation of total imports
Permission and support were requested from the French customs and veterinary authorities to participate in sanitary inspections at terminal 2E, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, France, to identify species and quantify volumes of import. Between the 3 and 20 June 2008, 29 Air France flights arriving at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport from Central and West Africa were checked between 0500 and 1100 hours, when most African flights land. Passengers carrying iceboxes were targeted for inspection, while those carrying only standard luggage were randomly selected, and their baggage thoroughly searched. Information recorded at the airport was, for the ith port of origin, flights scheduled per week (fi), flight capacity (ci), number of passengers checked (ni), and the weight of fish, livestock, and bushmeat carried by the jth passenger (kij). No information was available on the numbers of passengers travelling per flight; however, these flights usually travel at or near capacity, and we therefore assume that flights have an average proportional fill (p) of 0.9. The total estimated weight of fish or meat imported per week for a given country is given by
and the total weight imported across all of the routes searched is the sum of the country-specific weights. Confidence intervals for total weights were estimated from 10,000 stratified bootstrap samples, resampling kij values with replacement, and keeping sample sizes from each country equal to the actual numbers checked.
Bushmeat arrived dressed and often smoked. Some species in this state could be identified by superficial examination, including pangolins, porcupines, and cane rats. However, other species required skeletal examination. Specimens were prepared by the manual removal of soft tissues followed by boiling the carcasses for about 1.5 hours. Bones were degreased using 5% sodium perborate and 5% Argosol® (Argos society, Algiers) for 10 minutes, and bleached by immersion in 30% hydrogen peroxide for 14 hours. The skeletons were then reassembled and species were determined by comparison with collections from the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Toulouse. When confirmation was necessary, measurements and pictures were sent to H. Obermaier at the Institut für Palaeoanatomie und Geschichte der Tiermedizin (Munich University).
Paris market prices and structure
Informal discussions were held with three bushmeat traders in the market near Château Rouge station (Rue des Poissonniers, XVIIIe arrondissement, Paris), covering the price of bushmeat and how it could be bought in Paris. Traders were approached informally as a potential customer, and appeared open about their services. Customers were observed being charged prices in line with those quoted by traders, suggesting that these were accurate.
Nature of seizures
Fish and smaller quantities of livestock meat were carried in iceboxes, but bushmeat and larger livestock, such as entire sheep and calves, were wrapped in plastic and placed in casual holdalls. Travellers reported slaughtering the livestock just before boarding and, consistent with this, most livestock meat was fresh. About half of the travellers carrying foodstuff presented sanitary certificates apparently issued by the veterinary authorities from their country of origin. These papers listed the foodstuff carried, such as viande de chasse (bushmeat) or divers (miscellaneous), and certified that they were fit for human consumption, but were not in fact legally valid (see Discussion).
Frequency and quantity of seizures
A total of 134 passengers arriving on 29 flights from 14 west and central African countries were searched at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport (Table 1), and almost half of these were found to be carrying meat or fish (Table 2). Fish was found in the greatest overall quantity (446 kg). Amounts of livestock and bushmeat were lower and comparable to one another (131 and 188 kg, respectively), but bushmeat tended to be carried by fewer passengers in larger consignments: 7% of those searched were found to be carrying bushmeat, compared with 25% and 37% for livestock and fish, respectively, but average individual consignments were over 20 kg for bushmeat, compared with 4 and 9 kg for livestock and fish. The largest individual consignment of bushmeat was 51 kg carried by a passenger with no other baggage. In total, we estimate that 63.2 tonnes of meat and fish were imported per week on the Air France routes checked, of which 8% (5.25 tonnes) was bushmeat (Table 2). Assuming that these rates are representative of the average weekly rate over the year, this equates to 3,287 tonnes of meat and fish imported per year on these flights, of which 273 tonnes is bushmeat.
|Country (ports) of origin||Flights per week||Flight capacity||Maximum passengers per week||Flights checked||Passengers checked|
|Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou)||4||215||860||1||5|
|Ivory Coast (Abidjan)||2||270||540||2||10|
|Cameroon (Douala, Yaounde)||12||252||3,024||4||20|
|C. African Republic (Bangui)||1||215||215||3||30|
|Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)||3||215||645||3||13|
|D. R. Congo (Kinshasa)||4||215||860||2||4|
|Country of origin||Number (proportion) carrying||Total kg seized||Mean kg per carrier||Estimated tonnes imported per week (95% confidence interval)|
|Senegal||3 (0.23)||3 (0.23)||0||42||1||0||14||0.3||–||11.78||0.28||0|
|Mali||3 (0.33)||3 (0.33)||0||23||14||0||7.7||4.7||–||3.46||2.11||0|
|Burkina Faso||0||1 (0.2)||0||0||3||0||–||3||–||0||0.46||0|
|Guinea||4 (0.4)||5 (0.5)||0||27||10||0||6.8||2||–||2.1||0.77||0|
|Ivory Coast||4 (0.4)||0||1 (0.1)||18||0||1||4.5||–||1||0.87||0||0.05|
|Benin||4 (0.5)||4 (0.5)||0||35||10||0||8.8||2.5||–||4.23||1.21||0|
|Cameroon||8 (0.4)||0||2 (0.1)||74||0||27||9.3||–||13.5||10.07||0||3.67|
|C. African Republic||14 (0.47)||14 (0.47)||5 (0.17)||116||53||147||8.3||3.8||29.4||0.75||0.34||0.95|
|Republic of Congo||7 (0.54)||0||1 (0.08)||72||0||13||10.3||–||13||3.22||0||0.58|
|D. R. Congo||2 (0.5)||0||0||28||0||0||14||–||–||5.42||0||0|
|Total||50 (0.37)||33 (0.37)||9 (0.07)||446||131||188||8.9||4||20. 9||45.98||11.98||5.25|
Sample sizes for individual countries were low, making any comparisons tentative. However, it appears that Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Republic of Congo are the main sources of bushmeat, with a small amount from Ivory Coast, and none from any other country. However, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon in particular have small sample sizes, and both are countries that might be expected to be large bushmeat sources on the basis of known trade in country (Fa et al. 2003; Wilkie et al. 2005). Fish and livestock came from a wider range of countries, although little fish and no bushmeat came from the Muslim majority Sahelian nations (Mali, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso). Only Chad yielded no records of any meat or fish import, although, again, this needs to be treated with caution given the small sample size (only three passengers checked).
Eleven bushmeat species were found, including two primate, two ungulate, three rodent, two crocodile, and two pangolin, with the rodents and blue duiker making up 75% of the total number of carcasses found (Table 3). In addition, one piece of elephant trunk (Loxondonta sp.) was found during a lower intensity survey conducted simultaneously in Toulouse airport. The elephant and crocodiles are all listed in CITES Appendix 1 (trade banned), while the pangolins and blue duiker are in CITES Appendix 2 (trade restricted). The primates could not be identified to species, but could be placed in one of two genera (guenons Cercopithecus sp. or mangabeys Cercocebus sp.), all species of which are listed in one of the top two CITES Appendices. Overall, 39% of the bushmeat carcasses were CITES-listed species. None of the species identified are currently listed as threatened by the IUCN (http://www.iucnredlist.org), although giant pangolin and elephant are considered Near Threatened, and slender-snouted crocodile is considered Data Deficient. The IUCN also lists a number of mangabey and guenon species as threatened to varying degrees (see Discussion), although, due to the generic identification of primates, we do not know whether any of these species were present in seizures.
|Species||C. African Republic||Republic of Congo||Cameroon||Ivory Coast||Species total (proportion)|
|Hystrix cristata||34||6||0||0||40 (0.42)|
|Philantomba monticola||19||2||1||0||22 (0.23)|
|Atherurus africanus||6||3||0||0||9 (0.09)|
|Thryonomys swinderianus||8||0||0||1||9 (0.09)|
|Cercopithecus sp.||2||0||3||0||5 (0.05)|
|Uromanis tetradactyla||5||0||0||0||5 (0.05)|
|Cercocebus sp.||1||0||1||0||2 (0.02)|
|Red river hog|
|Potamochoerus porcus||0||0||1||0||1 (0.01)|
|Crocodylus niloticus||1||0||0||0||1 (0.01)|
|Crocodylus cataphractus||0||0||1||0||1 (0.01)|
|Smutsia gigantea||0||0||1||0||1 (0.01)|
Paris market operation and prices
Three bushmeat traders were spoken to, all middle-aged women. They trade from the streets and by telephone, taking advance orders and arranging deliveries. Prices quoted were between €20 and €30 per kg across a wide range of meats, including primate, crocodile, cane rat, porcupine and smoked fish. This compares to an average price of around €15 per kg for domestic meat sold in French supermarkets.
Scale and implications of meat and fish import
While it has long been known that meat and fish are imported illegally from Africa to Europe, the scale of this trade has so far remained unquantified; as far as we are aware, this investigation provides the first systematic evaluation of the volumes and nature of illegal imports. Although the estimated amount of bushmeat imported is a tiny proportion of the total estimated harvest (thought to be upward of one million tonnes per year in the Congo basin, Wilkie & Carpenter 1999), and is clearly not an important current driver of hunting in Africa, the volume and nature of import and trade suggests the emergence of a luxury market for African bushmeat in Europe. Imports are supplying an organized system of trade and are not solely being brought for personal consumption. This is indicated by the large size of many individual bushmeat consignments, and the presence of traders within Paris who are able to supply bushmeat to order. Furthermore, consumers in Paris are willing to pay high prices for the meat, with costs at the top end of premium meat prices. The bushmeat trade in Paris thus appears to be at the extreme end of a spectrum, from rural source areas in Africa through urban areas of increasing size and distance from the source, along which bushmeat becomes increasingly expensive (Starkey 2004; East et al. 2005). The development of a luxury market, linked to increasing affluence of the consumer population, is of particular concern because of the potential for demand to remain high even as supply dwindles and prices rise, potentially driving the extinction of even relatively resilient target species (Hall et al. 2008).
A more immediate conservation concern is the presence of CITES-listed species among those imported. During its 11th meeting, the Conference of the CITES Parties concluded that most of the trade in bushmeat is probably domestic and therefore not directly relevant to CITES. However, while international trade is small relative to in-country trade, the significant volumes reported here, coupled with the presence of species listed in both Appendices 1 and 2, suggest that the issue should be of immediate concern to CITES.
Drivers of import
There are a number of factors facilitating the illegal import of meat and fish. First, detecting and seizing these products is not a priority for customs officials. Officers reported that searches for meat are time consuming, not cost-effective, unpleasant, and potentially dangerous, and that seizures do not qualify for bonuses as do other illegal merchandise, such as counterfeits and drugs. As a result, they do not generally target meat. Adding to this, officers generally change shifts at around 0700 hours, resulting in a one-to-two hour period of reduced surveillance at the time when arrivals from Africa peak.
Second, penalties for importing illegal meat or fish are low and rarely imposed. The maximum penalty under French law is confiscation of the goods and a €450 fine, or €150 if less than 15 kg are carried. While meat and fish were always confiscated when found, only one passenger carrying bushmeat and none of the 55 people carrying fish or livestock were actually required to pay a fine. While French law implementing CITES is robust, in practice prosecutions under these regulations are rare. Such prosecutions require evidence of the species involved, but no protocols exist for the identification of seizures, which are instead sent immediately for incineration.
Third, the rewards from transporting bushmeat are potentially high. A 4 kg monkey will cost approximately €100 in France, 20 times more than the same monkey bought for around €5 in Cameroon (Willcox & Nambu 2007). While flight costs are substantial, three of the nine passengers carrying bushmeat were flying on discounted Air France tickets, which entitle family members of employees to discounts of up to 90%.
Finally, illegal meat and fish imports are encouraged by a lack of information on, and knowledge of, regulations. Most of the passengers searched claimed to be unaware of any restrictions and stated that no prohibition signs were displayed at their ports of departure. While some of these claims may not have been truthful, we believe that the availability of information and levels of knowledge are genuinely low. This is further supported by the fact that many of the people searched carried veterinary certificates, apparently signed by veterinary authorities in the countries of origin, which they believed entitled them to import the goods carried. In fact, these certificates did not follow European regulations for the certification of animal products and held no legal value.
Data quality and assumptions
Because the survey was short, and sample sizes consequently low, the precision of our estimates of import volume is also low. There are also two key potential sources of bias in our data. First, it may be that the dates on which we carried out the survey were unrepresentative of patterns over the rest of the year. Bushmeat supply in source countries can be seasonal to some extent (de Merode et al. 2004; Cowlishaw et al. 2005). However, we have no clear evidence of how this might have affected our results. Second, it may be that targeting of iceboxes by customs officials could lead us to overestimate the volumes of fish and livestock meat, since these are usually transported in iceboxes. However, bushmeat imports should not be sensitive to this bias since no bushmeat was found in iceboxes during this study.
Research and policy implications
The relatively short-time scale and restricted geographical coverage of this study leaves a number of important questions. A study operating over a larger scale and longer period is now required to extend geographical coverage, improve the precision of estimates, and reduce potential sources of bias. This should include coverage of other potential supply routes, particularly freight, which may be a major under-recorded channel for illegal imports (e.g., in 2008, a consignment of 340 kg of bushmeat was found in boat cargo arriving at Tilbury in the United Kingdom). Expanded monitoring will provide crucial information to improve the assessment of risks posed by this trade, and to prioritize actions for tackling it effectively.
On the basis of the results presented here, we suggest a number of policy options for reducing illegal imports. In the case of customs authorities, detection rates could be improved by incentivising officers to search for imports and by increasing the use of meat-detection dogs. Furthermore, when imports are detected, the appropriate fines should be imposed as a matter of course; without these two actions, there is effectively no deterrent. The efficiency of surveillance might also be improved by the introduction of effective checks at ports of departure. Improved ability to prosecute importers, particularly those importing large quantities and/or CITES-listed species, would also improve deterrence. This would require a change in regulations to allow the safe processing and storage of seizures as evidence. Training of customs officers to distinguish key bushmeat taxa visually could also help. There is a need to improve the information available to passengers on the illegality of carrying unregulated meat or fish, making clear why it is illegal and the risk of prosecution and substantial penalties. For example, in the United Kingdom, it appears that the amount of illegal meat imports via personal baggage has declined recently, possibly as a result of increasing awareness of the regulations following a targeted publicity campaign (DEFRA 2008). Developing common strategies across Europe based on effective practice such as this could help greatly. Airlines could also help, for example, by imposing penalties, perhaps including the threat of dismissal, on the staff members through whom the tickets were obtained when holders of discounted tickets available to staff are found to be carrying meat. While implementing all these suggestions might be difficult in practice, the large scale of current imports makes it important to consider all options for reducing the flow of illegal meat and fish in general and of bushmeat in particular.
We thank the team working at the Poste d’Inspection Frontalier in Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, including T. Lahlou, R. Bellahsene from the Brigade Nationale d’Inspection Vétérinaire, S. Kaeuffer from the Poste d’Inspection Frontalier in Toulouse Blagnac airport, and all the customs officers who participated in the data collection. We are grateful for the help and support we had for carrying out osteology and species determination, especially from H. Obermaier (Munich University) and P. Versigny (École Nationale Vétérinaire de Toulouse). Thanks also to J. Brashares for support in planning and comments on the manuscript, and to two anonymous referees, whose comments also helped to improve the manuscript.
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