AP2004

"Brussels a European hub for bush meat"

Research undertaken by VRT's flagship current affairs programme Pano has revealed that dozens of tons of bush meat, meat originating from wild animals, chiefly from the region of the African rain forests, are being imported into Belgium. 

As a result more and more species of animal are becoming endangered.  Public health is also under threat because this meat threatens to bring nasty viruses including Ebola into the country.

Our reporter Stijn Vercruysse showed how easy it was to buy bush meat in Brussels.  With the assistance of African Belgians VRT managed to buy two pieces of monkey meat and some antelope in shops in the Matonge area of Brussels.  The Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences in Brussels analysed the meat and confirmed its provenance.  All three pieces of meat came from endangered species.  The institute too appreciates how easy it is to purchase such meat after it got Congolese interns to purchase 12 pieces, including meat from protected species.

The World Wildlife Fund says that Brussels is a hub for the trade in bush meat originating from Africa and headed for the rest of Europe.  Research undertaken by the Swiss shows that half the meat impounded at Swiss airports arrived on flights from Brussels and transit passengers.  Two weeks ago 6 kilos of crocodile meat were seized in Zurich in the luggage of a Cameroonian travelling via Brussels.  Crocodiles are an endangered species.

The WWF believes up to 150 tons of bush meat is imported via Zaventem.  It presses for greater checks at the airport.  At present only one large scale check is staged every month.  Last year customs found 2,000 kilos of meat including bush meat.

People carrying bush meat in their luggage often in picnic coolers risk little chance of being caught.  Nobody has been prosecuted or sentenced for importing bush meat in four years now.  Significant sentences are on the statutes.  Meat found is seized and destroyed.

Bush meat could be a conduit to bring tropical diseases including Ebola into the country.  Prof Herwig Leirs of Antwerp University: "There's a small chance but the consequences would be enormous.  The problem is that tropical diseases are often found too late.  By then the virus has spread among the population."

Bush meat is usually smoked in Congolese villages because there is little refrigeration.  If it's insufficiently smoked and badly prepared when eaten, viruses could spread.