TOKYO, June 12 – The number of cases of overseas travelers illegally bringing in meat products to Japan reached a record high of roughly 110,000 in 2019, up 17 percent from a year before, according to the agriculture ministry’s preliminary data.
The increase was higher than the 2 percent year-on-year rise in the number of visitors from abroad.
The number of cases this year has been low because of a decline in foreign visitors amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but the ministry’s Animal Quarantine Service plans to strengthen measures at ports of entry to prevent livestock infection.
Among the total of 110,058 cases reported last year, nearly half, or 50,456, involved Chinese travelers, also record high, followed by visitors from Thailand and South Korea.
The sharp rise in such cases in recent years has become an issue, especially after the outbreak of African swine fever in China. There is no vaccine for the disease, and calls for stricter control rose among the livestock industry as the virus has been detected in many meat products, such as sausages and ham, seized from travelers from abroad.
In response to such calls, animal quarantine stations began in April 2019 issuing written warning to those who illegally brought meat products. They also kept passport numbers of such people to detect repeat offenders.
In 2019, 864 warnings were issued, and stricter inspections led to an arrest on suspicion of violation of the Act on Domestic Animal Infectious Diseases Control for the first time in four years. Although they conducted such strict measures, however, the stations continued to find people illegally bringing meat items.
The Animal Quarantine Service also increased the number of quarantine detector dogs that look for meat products hidden in passengers’ luggage from 33 in the end of fiscal 2018 to 53 in a year.
Detector dogs were newly stationed in regional airports with many travelers in addition to seven major airports nationwide, with a plan to increase the number of such dogs to 140 by the end of the current fiscal year.
While the number of cases of illegally bringing meat products marked a record high in 2019, the volume of such products dropped 37 percent from the previous year to 69 tons. “Since we intensified surveillance measures, less people are bringing a large amount of such items for the purpose of making a profit,” an Animal Quarantine Service official said.