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GEORGE TO CHALLENGE GOVERNMENT OVER IMPORT FEARS



 
11:00 - 19 April 2004
 
 The Government will today be called to account over fears that
substandard food from new European Union countries could flood the
British market. Liberal Democrat Food and Rural Affairs spokesman Andrew
George will put a series of written questions to Government over the
issue.

Concerns have been raised over public health and the impact the imports
could have on the farming industry if they do not meet EU hygiene
regulations by the May 1 accession date.

The MP for St Ives backed concerns raised by Dr Caroline Jackson, MEP
for the South West, saying: "This will create a new channel for
potential illegal imports."

Mr George, who will expect answers from the Government before the end of
the week, added: "The EU has a pivotal role in scrutinising and
investigating problems of illegal meat imports.

"The Government and the Commission should use their intelligence and a
fairly obvious assessment for what we would call 'black meat' and
potential routes for it."

He said allowing some countries to allow lower standards would create
unfair competition. "If it appears there is any evidence these countries
are not bringing forward their food hygiene slaughter standards as
quickly as they should be, then I think it is important that existing EU
nations start taking sanctions of refusing to permit imports where there
is evidence the governments have failed to bring standards up
sufficiently. There is already a problem with illegal meat imports -
what we suspect was part of the reason for foot and mouth outbreak."

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Defra), said: "We work with, and have worked with, other governments in
accession countries in order to help them meet the technical standards,
but it is for the Commission to enforce the standards across the
community. We have checks in place against meat imports from a potential
animal disease perspective."
 

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FARMERS FEAR UNFAIR COMPETITION



 
11:00 - 19 April 2004
 
 Farmers concerned about the impact of European Union enlargement on
their industry say they fear unfair competition. Some of the ten
countries joining the EU on May 1 have requested more time to bring
their slaughterhouses and other plants up to EU hygiene standards.

A beef and sheep farmer of 40 years, David Norman has long had concerns
about enlargement. Mr Norman, who farms in the Brendon Hills on the edge
of Exmoor said: "Their cost of production is still gong to be an awful
lot less than our because of the standard we are having to produce to.

"I'm always very wary of the drugs and chemicals used in food
production. We have had to live without using certain products.

"Now, from an animal health and food health basis, you will see food
coming in that's been produced using the chemicals we are no longer
allowed to use."
 



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KEEP US FREE OF DANGER FOODS



 
11:00 - 19 April 2004
 
 Sub-standard produce from new European Union countries could flood the
British food chain, posing a risk to public health and damaging the
farming industry, a Westcountry MEP has warned.

Many slaughterhouses and plants in the ten countries joining the EU in
less than a fortnight have - by their own admittance - yet to meet EU
hygiene rules.

Fears have now been raised that cheap meat and dairy products could be
brought into the UK after May, simultaneously undercutting prices
offered by domestic farmers and jeopardising the health of British
consumers.

Dr Caroline Jackson, MEP for the South West, last night warned the
danger of sub-standard food from slaughterhouses and other plants from
new member states breaching the existing European Union after May 1 was
"very real".

"The trouble is that from May 1 there will be no checks on food entering
the existing EU from such countries," she said.

"It is true that food from non-complying plants in the new member states
in Eastern Europe will be labelled as being 'only for sale in the
country of origin,' but there is obviously a huge price advantage in
selling it outside of these countries for higher prices in Germany and
elsewhere."

Polish authorities have already asked for exemptions from EU rules for
around 300 meat and dairy plants for nine months.

And the Czech Republic recently admitted that a number of its food
plants would be unable to meet EU hygiene standards by the accession
date and that the authorities may have to close some down.

The Liberal Democrats' Food and Rural Affairs spokesman, Andrew George,
will today take the concerns to Parliament. The MP for St Ives in
Cornwall will put a series of questions to the Government about the risk
to public health and the farming industry.

Mr George said action should be taken to ensure no sub-standard produce
could make its way into the British food chain.

Dr Jackson said it was unlikely such produce would find its way on to
supermarket shelves, but warned it was more likely to appear in smaller
stores.

"The produce would not reach us through the supermarkets - it's the
small outlets that are in danger of receiving it," she said.

"There is a risk to the public health because this food is coming from
plants which do not meet EU standards."

It is also feared that food from the new EU countries, which is produced
more cheaply than in Britain due to lower labour costs, will jeopardise
the Westcountry farming industry by undercutting the region's farmers.

Anthony Gibson, chairman of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) in the
South West, last night said it was vital that a "level playing field"
was maintained throughout the EU.

"We do not want to put public health or animal health at risk by
importing meat that has not been slaughtered to guidelines," he said.
"It is unfair competition we are worried about. The same standards must
apply everywhere."

Dr Jackson added: "This is worrying because it is something we could
foresee for at least five or six years and the Commission is not doing
enough. We know they [the new member countries] are not on target. They
need more time."

But a spokesman for the Food Standards Agency yesterday played down any
fears about threats to public health.

"We do not have any new public health concerns and there will be no new
food concerns emerging," he said, adding the accession countries would
be subject to the same inspections as current EU countries.

No one at Customs and Excise was yesterday available to give details of
the inspections and border controls in place within the European Union.

But a spokeswoman for the agency, which took over responsibility for
policing illegal meat imports from the Department of Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs in April 2003, said it was not the agency's policy to
carry out random checks.

"If we have reason to belive that there is something being smuggled then
we will investigate it," she said.

Customs and Excise also confirmed that from May 1, the new EU countries
will be "treated in exactly the same way as the current EU countries" in
terms of food import restrictions.

"We have special teams at the major ports and airports - that's where
the major risk is likely to be."

The agency added that teams of officers and sniffer dogs were also used
and that "a close eye was always kept on the black market".

A spokesman for the European Commission in London said: "By May 1, all
new member states are expected to have brought their national rules
fully into line with the EU's food and veterinary laws. A handful of
implementation issues remain and the Commission is in contact with the
authorities in the new member states concerned to resolve these ahead of
enlargement. The new member states are also gearing up to implement EU
food safety law. They have set up national surveillance networks on food
and feed safety that will link in with the EU's rapid alert system in
this area."

lthomas@ westernmorningnews.co.uk