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This is scary. The potential for another virus jumping the species barrier has always been there, but the widespread export of bush meat raises the chances of wide-apart outbreaks of never-before seen diseases in humans. The devastating experience of HIV should be enough to make us act on this new virus - and any others that may be lurking in the unsuspecting bush meat hunters. The time for action is NOW!
Peter Wanyonyi, Nairobi, Kenya
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your important work...
Laura Gould, U.S.A.
As Hackney's last Trainee Environmental Health Officer, I fully understand the huge problems facing Richard Robinson and my former colleagues. Following Foot and Mouth in 2001, the Government trained EHO/Port Health Officers to assist customs in searching passenger baggage for illegal meat and fish imports.
Why, then, have customs taking on this role? Firstly, there is a chronic shortage of EHO/PHOs. Secondly, it is cheaper to train a customs officer than an EHO. Thirdly, the number of people willing to train and work in local government has fallen due to comparatively poor pay.
I doubt any extra customs officers have been employed to stop illegal food imports. I also doubt that customs give such work any priority (like local government, they have more work to do with less resources), nor do their officers have the in-depth knowledge and training to enable them to spot and stop items such as cans of meat and food products containing meat or animal fat.
Port Health Officers at border inspection posts still deal with imports of food via sea and air freight. All legal importations are inspected. Illegal importations are never declared on cargo manifests. Only random checks can be made by Port Health. They do not have the personnel or resources to check more than a small percentage of containers imported each and every day.
Until we toughen up our border controls, this country will remain vulnerable to another outbreak of Foot and Mouth, sooner rather than later. The response of government and the EU to Foot and Mouth was to tighten the controls on the disposal of animal by-products. As last night's programme clearly showed, traders in illegal meat have no concerns for their customers' health, let alone the protection of our livestock farmers. In the end, the honest trader and consumer will pay for higher food costs following the full implementation of the Animal By-products regulations. Government ministers and top civil servants need to get out with Richard Robinson and his colleagues so they can really get a true picture of the massive problems that EHOs in inner city councils deal with on a day to day basis.
Yes a lot of Bushmeat is eaten in Africa. Yes, HIV and AIDS are currently prevalent in Africa, but why doesn't anybody want to admit that AIDS emerged from California - in San Francisco circa 1981? Perhaps this selective amnesia is designed to support big business?
Carlihnos de Souza, Brazil
I am a humble Ghanaian working in the UK. I was greatly disturbed by your article which stated that a new virus similar to the HIV virus has been
found in "bush meat" in Africa and in some humans as well. But this so-called scientific find is, in my opinion, irresponsible,
ill-advised and scientifically flawed.
I would also like to attribute the same condemnation to the other so-called
fact that HIV and AIDS came from Africa. I am old enough to remember the frantic news on American TV in the early 80s when an unknown killer virus was causing havoc amongst the homosexual community in San Francisco.
An African who loves his bush meat!
Ironically, short attention spans caused by high technology and poor sanitary conditions caused by low technology are combining to cause a pandemic of retrovirus. Unsanitary processing of bushmeat, unprotected sex, and reuse of hypodermic needles are the main causes of the spread of a retrovirus. The long time period between being exposed to when symptoms manifest are the main reason the modern world is vulnerable to retrovirus. Apparently, the infection route HIV/AIDS took hasn't been closed. Frankly, it is amazing HIV/AIDS has spread so far, so slowly.
Brad Arnold, Mpls, MN, USA
Though this may be a great breakthrough on the research on HIV/AIDS, it is also a rather morbid and disturbing situation. As science has shown in the past (with studies on Kuru, Bovine Spongiforum Encephalopathy and other similar diseases), the consumption of the meat of an organism of the same species creates incurable and always fatal diseases. With the gorilla being so closely related genetically, I am afraid that this disease is also related to the cannibalism phenomenon. One can only hope that scientists will notice this and help get out the word that this kind of behaviour is destroying our population and that modern technology is not capable of helping at this point in time.
I think those people that are affected should be kept in isolation to avoid the spread of the disease to other people until further inquiry declares them safe to re-enter the community.
Onwubulu Kingsley, Nigeria
Aren't there enough scare stories in the press? The bushmeat trade, according to the programme, is carried out by violent, organised criminals.
But I believe the trade is carried out by semi literate, West African market women, often called 'cash madams'. Their total turnover of a trip to the UK with bushmeat is between £2,000 and £5,000. These are the organised criminals. Why do the police always see small time opportunistic petty crooks with little regard for environmental or community health matters as "organised crime"?
I also disagree with the study by the Professor from John Hopkins University which found that retro viruses are jumping into the pygmy hunters of Cameroon. Man has been hunting for thousands of years, but because in the modern world we must farm all our meat on factory farms it is thought that anything caught in the wild must be bad for us.
Could it be that there's an embarrassment at being unable to stop this petty but possibly environmentally bad trade or must we always stoke up the conspiracy theories?
I understand that the WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) not government (customs & excise or police) pay for many if not most of the sniffer dogs deployed at airports to detect illegal meat imports, particularly on flights from West Africa. Given the huge cost of recent outbreaks of BSE Mad Cow Disease, Foot-and-Mouth Disease etc, which have, rightly or wrongly, been attributed to imported meat, it beggars belief that the government chooses not to invest in such effective and inexpensive agents of detection and prevention, whether at airports or ferry ports.
James Hewitt, England
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