TOKYO, Feb. 21 – Cases of illegal imports of meat products such as sausages and ham by Chinese travelers to Japan totaled 42,280 in 2018, increasing 1.5 times in three years to mark the largest figure in the last decade, according to the agriculture ministry statistics.
Because an African swine fever outbreak has recently been reported in China and there is a fear that the virus could spread through pork products, the ministry has been calling on visitors to follow the rules that ban travelers from bringing in meat products without inspection.
The cases of such products illegally entering the country, however, have not declined. The ministry estimates that around 1,500 cases of illegal imports of pork products from China are discovered every month.
In 2018, cases of illegal meat imports from the top 10 countries totaled 93,957, with China topping the list, occupying more than 40 percent of the cases. The preliminary figure marked a record high for two years in a row, after topping the 90,000 mark in the previous year. The figure showed a sharp increase from 17,815 in 2010, reflecting a boost in the number of foreign visitors.
Japan’s Act on Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control states that any meat product brought into Japan should undergo import inspection at the Animal Quarantine Service upon arrival. It is highly unlikely that the products for personal consumption will pass the inspection, meaning it is virtually impossible for travelers to bring in meat products.
The ministry’s monitoring surveys have detected African swine fever virus from meat products illegally brought into Japan. In October last year, the virus was detected from a sausage confiscated from a traveler at New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido.
Infected meat products have also been discovered at Haneda, Narita, Chubu, Kansai and Fukuoka airports, with the number of cases totaling 10 during the period between October 2018 and Feb. 13 this year. The survey was conducted on only a part of the confiscated products and there is a possibility that more infected products have been brought into the country.
Since it is difficult to detect meat products by x-ray scanners, such products are mainly discovered by quarantine detector dogs. Such dogs have detected about half of the confiscated products, but there are only 33 of them nationwide and they are stationed only at seven major airports in Japan.
Such detector dogs are dispatched to local airports or ports on an irregular basis, but not so frequently. Hakata Port in Fukuoka Prefecture receives the highest number of calls in the nation, 90 percent of which are cruise ships from China, but no detector dogs have been dispatched there. After the African swine fever outbreak in China, the Animal Quarantine Service has been receiving requests from local authorities to dispatch detector dogs.
Local airports are stepping up monitoring by animal quarantine officers. After visitors go through immigration inspection, the officers call on them to declare meat products at the customs. But the Animal Quarantine Service officials say that there are language barriers and some travelers become infuriated when the officers try to confiscate their meat products, making the procedures difficult at times. The officials are taking measures such as introducing mobile translation devices or hiring interpreters.
Illegal importers of meat products could be subject to a fine of 1 million yen or less or imprisonment of three years or less. The Animal Quarantine Service has been making efforts to raise awareness about illegal meat imports by putting up posters indicating the penalties, but there are few cases where penalties were actually imposed on such acts.