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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 06:54 GMT
'Smokie' gangs threaten meat trade
Environmental health inspectors seizing illegal meat
Illegal meat seizures have attracted much publicity
The illegal meat trade could have serious long-term implications for Welsh farming, a conference in Cardiff has been told.

Mafia-like criminal gangs are making huge profits from the illegal meat trade with little risk of being caught and punished.

Wales is becoming the centre for the illegal production of so-called smokies - a delicacy made from carcasses which are primitively blow-torched.

The Cracking Down on Meat Crime organised by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), is warning delegates at the conference that urgent action needs to be taken to curb what is becoming a multi-million pound industry.

It wants to see more resources set aside to tackle the problem and tougher sentencing for those involved.

There have already been convictions following the illegal slaughter and sale of animals in west Wales.

In June this year Carmello Gale, from Penlan Farchog, Penrhiwllan, Llandysul, jailed for four months after being found guilty of illegally transporting meat for the smokie market.

It is believed that the foot-and-mouth epidemic of 2001 put the dangers of illegal meat onto the national agenda for the first time.

Since then, some steps have been taken to address the challenges presented by meat crime, but the CIEH claim they are not enough.
No single organisation, agency or government department can stamp out this criminality on its own
Julie Barratt, CIEH

The concern is that if the trade is left unchecked, it could seriously affect the meat industry and public health.

Several hundred animals have been slaughtered illegally in west Wales and sold on as smokies to ethnic communities in London.

The meat is a west African delicacy produced whent he skin of a sheep or oat is blow-torched to give a characteristic flavour.

Julie Barratt, CIEH director for Wales, said people resorted to meat crime - in particular producing smokies - as a means of "supplementing their incomes".

"This has a number of serious implications for Wales," she said, "including the loss of its worldwide reputation for the production of high quality lamb and may put the European Protected Status for Welsh lamb into jeopardy."

Illegal 'smokies'
There is a huge trade in illegal 'smokies'

But according to National Farmers Union Cymru President Peredur Hughes the illegal market could be stopped if a legal way of production was formulated.

In a speech at the conference he said: "There is a market for this trade. We should try and establish a legitimate and lawful way in which this market can be satisfied."

The conference is designed to highlight the full seriousness of meat crime, to encourage a more coordinated approach by government and enforcement agencies to tackle it, and to look at ways of ensuring that the punishment handed down fits the crime.

Mrs Barratt said the food chain is a long and complicated one.

"No single organisation, agency or government department can stamp out this criminality on its own.

"We need to build strategic partnerships, where all parties adopt the same level of responsibility and commitment in order to prevent criminal gangs from exploiting enforcement loopholes."

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