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PRO/AH> Food, illegal, seizures - Europe

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
[1] Switzerland
Date: Mon, 23 May 2005 22:35:47 +0900 (JST) 
From: ProMED-mail <>
Source: Swissinfo 23 May 2005 [edited]
Illegal meat trade sparks health fears 
Customs officers say high meat prices in Switzerland are 
fuelling a lucrative cross-border smuggling trade which 
poses a danger to public health. 
The authorities, who have intercepted 5 metric tons of 
smuggled meat in the past 18 months, say the racket is 
increasingly being run by organised gangs. 
Since the introduction
 of import quotas a decade ago, the 
Federal Customs Office says it has seen an upsurge in the 
amount of meat smuggled into Switzerland from neighbouring 
countries, where prices are up to 50 per cent cheaper. 
And it is not simply a question of a few sausages slipped 
under the front seat. Smuggling operations are often 
professionally run and involve shipments worth tens of 
thousands of francs. 
According to Serge Gumy, head of criminal investigations 
at the Federal Customs Office, a combination of high meat 
prices, stiff customs duty, increased traffic and relaxing 
of border checks have created "a big risk of fraud" in 
"There is an enormous market here for smuggled meat, and 
it's principally down to the price difference between 
Switzerland and abroad," he told Swissinfo. A kilo of beef 
filet costs around SFr70 (USD57) in Switzerland. 
"You only have to look at the number of big cases we are 
dealing with to see how much things have increased in 
recent years." 
Massive fraud 
In one of the biggest cases, which is still going through 
the courts, customs officers exposed a 20-strong 
trafficking network responsible for the illegal import of 
600 metric tons of beef, pork and horsemeat over a 
two-year period. The unpaid duty amounted to around 
SFr12.5 million (USD10.2 million). 
Fines totalling SFr900 000 (USD73 440) have already been handed out and 
prosecutors are seeking a one-year prison sentence for the ringleaders. 
The meat, which was mainly of South American origin, was 
bought in Belgium and France and stashed in a hidden 
compartment on an articulated lorry. On arrival in 
Switzerland, the contraband was sold to butchers and 
In another case in 2003, investigators smashed a smuggling operation in 
Basel involving around 10 metric tons of beef, veal and pork worth SFr400 
000 (USD326 400). The meat was sold to restaurants in Zurich and Basel. 
And it is not just butchered meat that is coming to light. The racket also 
extends to livestock such as piglets and horses. 
Health risks 
But it is not simply a question of financial fraud; there 
is also the issue of health risks to consider. 
The Customs Office says much of the smuggled meat is 
transported in poor hygienic conditions. Most of the time 
there is no accompanying health and safety certificate, 
and the meat is unrefrigerated. 
The Federal Veterinary Office, which checks and authorises 
meat entering Switzerland, says smuggled meat poses a 
serious risk to the health of animals and humans. 
Spokesman Marcel Falk said smugglers tended to have little 
expertise in handling meat which was often already 
decaying by the time it arrived in Switzerland. This 
raised the possibility of consignments being riddled with 
bacteria such as salmonella or campylobacter. 
"There is also the risk of infecting animals with highly 
transmissible diseases," added Falk. "If you have an 
outbreak of foot and mouth, swine fever or avian flu the 
consequences would be dramatic in terms of animal 
suffering and economic losses." 
To combat the increase in trafficking, the Customs Office 
underwent a reorganisation 7 years ago to place more 
onus on intelligence gathering and analysis. 
With around 21 000 trucks crossing into Switzerland each day and 1 882km of 
frontier to patrol, the country's 4500 customs officers have had to develop 
a more targeted  response. Now each investigation section has a special unit 
whose job is to collect and sift through all the information coming in from 
phone tip-offs, emails, letters, police, government agencies, cantons and 
[Byline: Adam Beaumont]
[I checked with an authority in Switzerland because of the slight anomalies 
in the volumes quoted, and the 600 metric ton legal case is outside the 
total for the past 18 months, as it relates to the immediate period before 
and the legal process. These are not trivial volumes of meat. We can assume 
that equivalent volumes are entering other European countries. It is a very 
significant health risk. - Mod.MHJ]
[2] UK (Northern Ireland)
Date: 25 May 2005
From: ProMED-mail <>
Source: BBC [edited]
Illegal food import seizures rise
Seizures of illegal food imports at Northern Ireland airports have 
risen sharply, government figures have shown. More than 2600 kg of 
meat, fish and vegetables were seized last year [2004], a 35 percent 
rise over the previous year.
Jonathan Guy, a vet with the Department of Agriculture, said diseases 
from illegal food imports could threaten crops, livestock and public 
health. He said the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001 was probably 
caused by illegally imported products being fed to pigs. Mr. Guy 
said: "No one needs [to be] reminded of the impact which foot and 
mouth disease had on all walks of life here in 2001. It is estimated 
that the outbreak cost the Northern Ireland economy some GBP 24 
million [USD 44 million]. After an infected animal, contaminated food 
waste is the next most likely cause of an epizootic disease 
outbreak." The current legislation makes it illegal to bring back 
meat and milk-based products for personal use into Northern Ireland 
from countries outside the EU.
However, consignments of illegal food imports from more than 80 
non-EU countries have been seized at Belfast International Airport 
and Belfast City Airport since 1998, according to the department. 
Inspectors said there had even been instances of maggot-infested 
produce being concealed in suitcases.
Mr. Guy said the reasons why there was a high risk of disease coming 
into Northern Ireland were 3-fold: the trend towards more exotic 
travel destinations, an increasing flow of EU and non-EU migrant 
workers into the province and the enlargement of the European Union. 
"As well as the obvious risk to the Northern Ireland animal 
population, there are serious public health risks associated with 
eating unfit products," he said.
As well as foot-and-mouth, other diseases threaten animal health, 
such as swine fever and avian flu. To try to decrease the risk of 
infection, the department has placed strict restrictions on 
foodstuffs that can be brought back from countries outside Northern 
Mr. Guy said: "Anyone intending to make a trip, whether for business 
or pleasure reasons, should check the rules on food imports before 
they leave the UK. If you are caught breaking the rules, then you may 
face long delays, prosecution and a fine."
[By the nature of this trade being illegal -- and it is widely agreed that 
only a small proportion of such materials are stopped at borders -- we can 
assume that the participants include not just ethically challenged 
businessmen but also criminal organizations. The risks are extremely 
significant. - Mod.MHJ]