Officers seized 159 pounds of iguana meat brought into the country at the Otay Mesa border crossing, U.S. Customs and Border Protections announced Wednesday.
On June 7, at about 3:30 p.m., a 37-year-old U.S. citizen arrived at vehicle processing at the Otay Mesa passenger port of entry, according to Jackie Wasiluk, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The man declared he had brought fish from Mexico and upon further investigation officers found three coolers with iguana meat hidden under fish, Wasiluk said.
The meat was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the man was given a notice to appear in federal court.
According to experts, iguana meat is considered a delicacy in some Central American countries. While it is not illegal to bring iguana meat into the U.S., there are restrictions and a permit is required.
Websites selling the meat, claiming it's a cure-all for everything from colds to poor sexual performance.
Iguanas are also popular as pets, but as food?
"I think for native people who have a taste for it, it's OK if it's done right," said animal activist Joan Embery.
Embery said "doing it right" means not degrading the natural environment. She pointed out iguana farms are growing in Central America. Some environmentalists say iguana farming is not necessarily a bad thing because it doesn't involve clearing land and cutting trees the way cattle ranching does.
"If it's done correctly, iguana farming can sustain the population with a food source, and the wild population can still thrive," said Embery. "Done incorrectly, it can be destructive."
Embery also said smuggling any kind of animal or animal meat across the border can have dire consequences.
"We possibly introduce disease to people, to other animals, and it that's out of check, it can be catastrophic," said Embery.
This is not the only recent case of iguana meat smuggling. Authorities said 58 pounds of iguana meat was confiscated in March along the Texas border. It was wrapped in corn meal to disguise it.
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