Rat Meat Sold Illegally in London

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Great Cane Rat, Greater Cane Rat (Thryonomys Swinderianus). (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)

BBC reporters armed with hidden cameras have discovered large quantities of cane rat meat being sold on the streets of east London.

The video shows butchers at Ridley Road Market hide stacks of rat meat  in their shops and reveal them only when approached by customers hungry for “bushmeat” — wild, often endangered game.

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A cane rat, which looks like a giant opossum, weighs nearly 15 pounds and has a hairless, 10-inch-long tail. Though savored as a delicacy in West Africa, cane rat meat is considered illegal and unsanitary in the United Kingdom. Health officers say they are wary of the sales of the meat because they don’t know how the animal was treated nor how its meat, which is often imported from Ghana, is prepared.

Those shops also reportedly sell “smokies” — illegally produced meat that involves using a blowtorch to char the skin of a goat or sheep. Selling smokies has become a lucrative business in Wales despite being banned in Europe for health and animal safety concerns, according to the Daily Mail.

Compared with other types of bushmeat such as gorillas or chimpanzees, cane rats are not endangered and have in fact been suggested as an alternative to hunting threatened species. They are herbivores that live near marshes. Their meat tastes “succulent, sweet, tender,” according to Stefan Gates, a British food writer, and is low in cholesterol and high in protein. Eating methods include stewing and roasting, accompanied by boiled cassava balls known as fufu.

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The problem with cane rat meat is its way of entry into the United Kingdom: smuggled by air travelers.

“It’s all illegal and hasn’t undergone health control, hasn’t been inspected and may well be contaminated,” one health inspector told BBC. “You’ve got to wonder about the contamination level of this meat that anyone’s bringing into their kitchens.”

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