US/World

'Possibly Contaminated' Rats Being Illegally Sold by Butchers in London

rats
The illegal meat products are often smuggled in at the airports or ferries. REUTERS/Nguyen Huy Kham

Journalists have uncovered large quantities of illegal and potentially contaminated bush meat being sold in one of the busiest food markets in east London.

Bush meat is wild terrestrial animals hunted for commercial gains. It is considered the opposite of livestock, which is raised for the express purpose of being slaughtered for food.

The Ridley Road Market in Dalston, in east London, is apparently known to be a hotbed of illegal activity. It is reported that butchers there conduct sales of illegal "smokies," a delicacy made by charring goat and sheep with a blowtorch. At least two stores were found to sell "grass cutter" or cane rats, possibly imported from Ghana, where they are a luxury.

The practice of "smokies" has been outlawed due to public health and animal welfare concerns. The practice has also been linked to mafia-style gangs in Wales, who steal sheep and goats and slaughter them in unlicensed houses.

Bush meat has been a consistent problem for authorities in the UK. The illegal meat products are often smuggled in at the airports or ferries. They fear that the meat could pose risks to consumers, either through eating it or via contamination.

A BBC reporter found several stores and butchers selling the meat easily, however. Though not every store participated in the practice, some were easily uncovered. All have knowledge that the practice is illegal. One butcher who sold the meat to the reporter said, "Don't tell anyone; otherwise, there will be trouble."

Despite the fact that these sales seem to be an open secret, the last enforcement visit to the neighborhood was conducted in 2009. Though the visit was due to a tip claiming that illegal bush meat was being sold, the investigation was inconclusive. The Hackney Council's team of Environmental Health Officers says that they make regular visits to each of the 1,000 establishments, and take every claim of the sale of illegal meat seriously.

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