Rats are easy find in Chicago — the city last week launched a new effort to curb the population — but an international traveler apparently felt the need to import 32 pounds of rodent meat. Customs officials confiscated the African rat meat last week at O’Hare International Airport when a passenger from the Ivory Coast declared the meat after reaching Chicago, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told the Sun-Times.
Once the rat meat was seized and destroyed, the passenger reportedly went on his merry way and was not fined, the spokesperson added. The Transportation Security Administration’s policy allows travelers to transport frozen meat, seafood, vegetables, and other “non-liquid” food in both carry-on and checked bags. In this case, however, officials commandeered the meat to prevent the spread of African swine fever, according to the spokesperson. The highly contagious disease may be deadly to domestic and wild pigs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but is not dangerous to humans.
Western diners may not be accustomed to seeing rat on the menu, but rodent meat doesn’t carry the same stigma in other parts of the world. The Adi tribe of northeast India hold an annual celebration featuring dishes made with rat, the BBC reported, and rat is also eaten in many countries including Cameroon, Cambodia, Laos, Ghana, China, Vietnam, and parts of the Philippines and Indonesia.
While news of the seizure made headlines across the country, it may have seemed like just another shift for customs officers: the Sun-Times reported that on an average day, they destroy 4,500 prohibited animal products, meat, and plants.
O’Hare representatives have not returned a request for comment.