Further action on illegal meat imports

UK - More measures to tackle illegal imports of meat and plants have been drawn up by the government in a revised action plan.
calendar icon 26 March 2003
clock icon 4 minute read
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The plan, published today, is backed by an extra 325 million over 3 years, and takes account of an assessment of the risks of foot and mouth disease from illegal imports, also published today.

From April 11, Customs and Excise will take responsibility for anti-smuggling controls on illegal imports of meat and other animal products imported directly from non-EU countries at ports and airports.

The proposed new measures include:

  • a new frontier enforcement strategy, with Customs aiming to detect illegal imports of meat and animal products
  • four new national strike teams of Customs officers whose priority will be meat and animal products
  • more detector dogs (from two up to six)
  • continuing risk assessment, intelligence gathering and sharing
  • improved measures and links to other initiatives to prevent disease spreading on farms
  • a new publicity drive to raise awareness of import rules, including in-flight messages and adverts on seven million ticket wallets
The illegal imports risk assessment, carried out by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency and independent consultants SafetyCraft, estimates, with 90 per cent confidence:
  • that the amount of illegal meat imported annually is between 2,800 and 17,500 tonnes with an average value of 7,500 tonnes.

  • the amount of this contaminated with FMD virus is estimated to be between 30 and 250kg per year, on average 95kg;

  • between 20 and 680g (175g on average) of this is ingested by susceptible livestock.
Taking account of the relationship between the dose of the virus needed to cause infection and the susceptibility of the animals, it is estimated that:
  • the overall probability of FMD infection in Great Britain from illegal meat and meat products is one infection between 40 years and 1,100 years, or on average one infection in 130 years.
This relates only to the risk from illegal imports. Other factors will contribute to the overall risk of FMD, including movements of live animals, airborne outbreaks, and transfer of virus on shoes, clothing and vehicles.

Food and Farming Minister Lord Whitty said:

"The risk assessment, an extremely complex exercise, shows that there is an on-going risk from imports, although the level of risk cannot be defined with any precision. It has given us a much better indication about what produce from which regions and which routes and pathways inland carry the greatest risk. This will be important in targeting enforcement activity."

"The new arrangements with Customs and Excise will make a significant difference as they will bring to bear their resources, skills and experience in intelligence, prevention and detection of prohibited goods to help reduce the flow of illegal meat products entering the UK. This will reduce the risk of animal diseases which can cause such damage to the whole of our economy." Ministers will convene a forum of stakeholders to discuss the draft action plan before it is finalised.

The government is also publishing a supporting document summarising and commenting on the risk assessment in more detail.

The action plan can be accessed electronically on Defra's website at

Source: DEFRA - 25th March 2003
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