When the earliest Dutch and European settlers travelled to South Africa they took with them something special; the basic recipe for Biltong. The idea of curing and drying meat had been around for centuries, probably millennia, and was also found amongst existing residents. South Africa’s abundance of game made it an ideal place for European settlers to establish themselves, and the tradition of air-dry cured meat was the ideal way to make the most of this abundance. Biltong has evolved into a delicious, versatile ‘processed’ meat, which is not only a favourite snack food, but can provide the basis for a huge range of dishes, from soups to stews to salads. You’d think the EU wouldn’t mind people bringing it back. Sadly, they do!
The Import Ban on Food Products to the EU
Biltong, unfortunately, falls under the strict regulations that the EU imposes on the import of foodstuffs. Import and export of foodstuffs between EU countries themselves is not restricted. However, the import of meat and meat products, fish, poultry and vegetable products are all subject to strict control when brought from outside of the EU. Food importers are able to import some items but the lengthy and complex process for registration and permission is more than most can cope with. So what’s the problem and what are the restrictions?
The problem, in short, is that the European authorities take the concerns over the introduction of non-native pests and diseases very seriously. An outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in the UK in 2001 had a devastating impact on the UK’s farmers and food suppliers. This was most likely a home-grown disaster, but the authorities point to it as an example of how serious infections and disease can be. There are lesser restrictions on some dairy and poultry produce from non-EU countries but the restrictions on meat and meat products are the most stringent. Biltong, sadly for ex-pats of South Africa, falls under this category. In the past the restrictions were largely aimed at commercial importers but these have been extended to individual travellers and means that it is now illegal to bring this type of product into EU countries including the UK.
This means that there are heavy penalties for bringing ‘outlawed meat’ into the EU and they are dealt with under smuggling regulations. Entry into EU countries will be severely delayed, possibly refused or end in prosecution, if you are caught trying to ‘smuggle’ even the most innocuous of snack items into an EU state. The laws also apply to postal deliveries from distant shores, which will be classed as an attempt to import illegal foodstuffs into the country and result in the same penalties. Postal deliveries are probably more likely to be detected than attempts to accidentally bring a pack of Biltong into the EU, but neither is to be recommended and you should always check current EU regulations to avoid mistakes. Thankfully, with the number of South African residents growing in the UK and Europe, the idea of producing a little bit of home while away has resulted in Biltong production in the UK and other EU nations. Using traditional South African methods and recipes the number of biltong suppliers is on the rise. Not only providing a much needed reminder of home, but also teaching a whole new generation of Europeans about the joys of Biltong.