African weight-loss drug among customs seizures

Sixty-three batches of a powerful weight-loss drug traditionally used by African bushmen on hunting trips have been seized by Customs this year, authorities revealed today.

Almost 20,000 tablets made using the mysterious hoodia plant – once heralded as a potential miracle cure for obesity – have been discovered in the post and in people’s luggage.

The pills were seized under the Cites trade agreement which attempts to stop the sale and distribution of products made from endangered plants and animals.

Kieran Dillon, Revenue Customs Cites national co-ordinator, said the pills are not banned but officials were concerned the rare desert plant was being illegally harvested.

“The majority of these seizures would have been internet purchases and found at one of the four main postal depots,” he said.

“The hoodia is generally coming from the United States or China. It appears to be processed in the US but the source of it we can’t say.”

Twenty-five kilos of the raw hoodia plant were found in a drum being transported through Dublin Airport four years ago.

Ireland is one of 170 countries signed up to the international Cites agreement outlawing trade in 4,000 animal and 25,000 plant species threatened with extinction.

Other seizures this year included two horns from the Gemsbok African antelope and body parts from two dead monkeys at a sorting office in Drogheda.

Experts believe the bushmeat had been sent as gifts from Nigeria and was intended to be eaten as a delicacy over Christmas.

Customs use X-ray scanners, sniffer dogs and risk profiling to check packages for Cites breaches.

The little cactus hoodia plant grows naturally in the Kalahari desert in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa and has been traditionally used by San bushmen to stave off hunger on long hunting trips.

Mr Dillon said: “It has to come from one of these countries in its raw state first.”

In the 1990s it was being heralded as a miracle cure for obesity after the South African government agreed to harvest it sustainably for a pharmaceutical company.

Slimming pills made using the hoodia’s active ingredients are licensed by the Irish Medicines Board.

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