Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bushmeat and immigrants in New York

Associated Press:

A food safety inspector noticed an interesting special posted in the front window of a market in Queens: 12 beefy armadillos.

In Brooklyn, inspectors found 15 pounds of iguana meat at a West Indian market and 200 pounds of cow lungs for sale at another store. A West African grocery in Manhattan sold smoked rodent meat from a refrigerated display case.

All of it was headed for the dinner table. All of it was also illegal.

Authorities say the discoveries are part of a larger trend in which markets across New York are buying meat and other foods from unregulated sources and selling them to an immigrant population accustomed to more exotic fare. State regulators have stepped up enforcement, confiscating 65 percent more food - 1.6 million pounds - through September than they did in all of 2005.

In this ethnically diverse city, everything from turtles and fish paste to frogs and duck feet make their way onto people’s plates.

“At one time or another, we’ve probably seen about everything,” said Joseph Corby, director of the state’s Division of Food Safety and Inspection.

Inspectors in Corby’s agency, which is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent illicit food from reaching store shelves, are now targeting warehouses that receive imported products in addition to checking out retailers.

Food taken by inspectors lacked proper labeling or didn’t come from a government-licensed or inspected source. Other food was destroyed because of the way it was processed or prepared, like chicken smoked in the home and placed on sale. Such food can spread nasty bacteria like salmonella or botulinum.

Bush meat, or anything killed in the wild, is typically illegal. Eating endangered or threatened species like gorilla and chimpanzee - whose meat is occasionally found in New York - is against the law.

But turtles, frogs, iguana and armadillos can be sold if the meat comes from a licensed and inspected facility. “We have yet to find too many of these places,” Corby said.

In a city filled with clusters of people hailing from all over the world, these rules can get lost in translation. Sanitary inspection reports dating back to 2001 reveal a widespread appetite for potentially dangerous food.

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