Bushmeat, an African delicacy, facing NY crackdown

Sun Feb 22, 2009 9:03am EST
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Like many West African immigrants in New York's Park Hill neighborhood, Liberian Jacob Massaquoi has a story about bringing bushmeat into the United State -- in his case, three dried monkey carcasses.

Massaquoi listed "bushmeat" on his customs declaration form when entering JFK Airport around 2001. The meat was confiscated and Massaquoi, the head of an African community organization, was fined $250.

"It's like telling an Englishman, you can't have your baked beans," Massaquoi said. "Bushmeat is an integral part of our culture and something that we cherish."

U.S. health officials say a steady flow of bushmeat is brought illegally into the United States, largely by West and Central African immigrants. Officials say the imports are a serious public health hazard.

New York's state legislature may increase the penalties for smuggling, although immigrants say the dangers are overblown and the crackdown smacks of anti-African prejudice.

Officials say even a small amount of tainted bushmeat -- a staple of some African diets that includes chimpanzee, gorilla, antelope, birds and rodents -- could lead to an outbreak of Ebola, monkey pox or other infectious diseases.

"It just takes one piece of meat that's infected with Ebola virus for us to have a major disaster on our hands," said Pascal Imperato, a former New York City Health Commissioner and the former director of an immunization drive in West Africa.

"It spreads very rapidly. It is very difficult to contain and control."   Continued...