Exploring the Bushmeat market in Brussels

Policy Concern Category: Endangered Species, Public Health, Food security and traceability

The European Union prohibits the import of meat (products) unless specifically authorised and certified as being eligible for import. Nevertheless, various scientific papers report that passengers from west and central African countries illegally import large quantities of meat, including bushmeat, into Europe via its international airports. They also suggest that African bushmeat is an organised luxury market in Europe. In response, BopCo conducted a study in which it explored several aspects of the African bushmeat market in Brussels. Our study demonstrates the clandestine nature of this market where bushmeat is sold at prices at the top of the range of premium livestock and game meat. Inquiries among central and western African expatriates living in Belgium, who frequently travel to their home countries, indicate that the consumption of bushmeat is culturally driven by the desire to remain connected to their countries of origin. DNA-based identifications of 15 bushmeat pieces bought in Brussels, reveal that various mammal species, including CITES-listed species, are being sold. Moreover, we find that several of these bushmeat pieces were mislabelled.

These findings have been presented at several conferences and were published in Biodiversity and Conservation in an article entitled: “Exploring the bushmeat market in Brussels, Belgium: a clandestine luxury business”. The publication of the study was picked up by the (scientific) press and resulted in a an article entitled “The meat of protected African animals is being sold in Belgium” in NewScientist (24/11/2020) and a piece in De Standaard (30/11/2020) entitled “Dure balsem voor heimwee naar Afrika”. In addition, BopCo participated in preparing an exhibition entitled 'Stop Wildlife Trafficking', which was organised in the corridors of the European Parliament buildings in Brussels (9-11 July 2018), to mark the mid-term review of the European Union Action Plan on Wildlife Trafficking. Multiple partners, including the Belgian National Focal Point for the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, the Royal Museum for Central Africa, WWF-Belgium, WWF-Europe, the World Conservation Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network), the Botanic Garden Meise, Brussels Airport, the University of Liège, and the Belgian Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment, designed informative posters and brochures providing information on the scale and impact of wildlife trafficking, as well as recommendations to tackle this issue.

Furthermore, two documentaries broadcasted on October 3rd 2018 on the Belgian national TV exposed the availability of bushmeat in Brussels, i.e. 'Pano' (by VRT NWS) and 'On n'est pas des pigeons' (by RTBF). In an undercover operation, the Pano team also travelled to the DR Congo and had little if any problem to import bushmeat in Belgium in their luggage. In the framework of these documentaries, BopCo was contacted by the journalists because of its know-how on DNA-based species identification and the expertise on the subject present at RBINS and RMCA. In the framework of the online LifeWatch.be Users and Stakeholders meeting held in October 2020, BopCo produced a YouTube Demo video of 10 minutes, illustrating how we handle an identification request, using the bushmeat samples identified for the journalists from Pano as a case study. The video and the links to the documentaries can be found below.

BopCo Coordinator: Sophie Gombeer

Publications & Presentations:

  • Gombeer, S., Nebesse, C., Musaba, P.,  Ngoy, S., Peeters, M., Vanderheyden, A., Meganck, K., Smitz, N., Geers, F., Van Den Heuvel, S., Backeljau, T., De Meyer, M. & Verheyen, E. 2020. 'Exploring the bushmeat market in Brussels, Belgium: a clandestine luxury business'. Biodiversity and Conservation, 1-12. DOI: 10.1007/s10531-020-02074-7
  • Gombeer, S., Musaba, P., Nebesse, C., Ngoy, S., Peeters, M., Van Bourgonie,YR., Meganck, K., Smitz, N., Backeljau, T., De Meyer, M. & Verheyen, E. 'African Bushmeat in Brussels: high prices and high levels of misidentification'. 8th International Barcode of Life Conference, 17–20 June 2019. Trondheim, Norway. PDF
  • Gombeer, S., Backeljau, T., De Meyer, M., Musaba, P., Nebesse, C., Ngoy, S. & Verheyen, E. ‘Bushmeat for sale in Brussels’. 25th Congress of Zoology, 14-15 December 2018, Antwerp, Belgium. PDF
  • Gombeer, S., Backeljau, T., De Meyer, M., Musaba, P., Nebesse, C., Ngoy, S. & Verheyen, E. ‘Bushmeat for sale in Brussels’. 18th Meeting of Partners of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership, 27-28 November 2018, Tervuren, Belgium. PDF



Database: the sequences were deposited in GenBank (COI: MT020839-MT020852; cytb: MT024303-MT024317).



Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith