David Lidington: Nine months on, DEFRA’s “Action Plan” on meat imports still not delivered

 

New EU rules, coming into force on 1 January 2003, bar travellers from bringing in meat or meat products as part of their personal allowance. But that only highlights the British Government’s failure to implement its own Action Plan.

 

Commenting, Shadow DEFRA Secretary of State David Lidington said;

 

“Foot and Mouth disease cost Britain £11 billion. Ministers say that the epidemic was caused by illegally imported meat. It’s now 15 months since the last case of Foot and Mouth and nine months since DEFRA published its so-called Action Plan. Yet almost nothing has been done actually to strengthen port controls.

 

 “The Government’s sloth and incompetence on this matter is scandalous.”

 

 

ENDS

 

For further information contact the CCO Media Unit on 0207 984 8121 or David Lidington on pager 07626 802627.

 

Notes to Editors

The European Union’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health agreed unanimously on 20 September 2002 to introduce the interim safeguard rules – meaning that travellers entering the UK from 1 January 2003 are prohibited from the personal import of meat, meat products, milk and milk products.

 

The exceptions are powdered infant milk, infant food and special foods required for medical reasons that do not require refrigeration before consumption and are propriety branded products with packaging intact.

 

Although the Government published an Action Plan in March, the current situation was pretty well summed up by the chairman of the Royal Society inquiry, Sir Brian Follett, who when asked by the Select Committee what was missing from the Government's action plan replied with the single word ‘Action.’

 

  • The Risk Assessment (described as a ‘key element’ of the action plan on the DEFRA website) has still not been published; it was due to be published in the ‘autumn’.

 

  • Responsibility: It was announced (on 6 November 2002) that Customs and Excise would be taking over responsibility for enforcing import controls on meat and plant produce. There have been no details of the priority that Customs is to give to the task, nor any details of the budget, resources or staffing that will be available to them. The powers for enforcement officers to search baggage were extended in May 2002. The Government ‘are now reviewing powers further’ since the decisions to delegate responsibility to Customs and Excise. (HoCs WPQ, 25 Nov 2002: Column 45W).

 

  • Amnesty bins: No official amnesty bins have been installed at UK ports or airports.  Despite an ‘action group’ meeting on 22 August. (HoCs WPQ, 2 December 2002, Column 494W)

 

  • Landing cards: DEFRA on their website say they are ‘talking to the Home Office, Customs and others about the introduction of declarations on Landing Cards’. There has been no progress as yet and Mrs Beckett is unable to say when there will be. (Hansard 21 November 2002, col. 770)

 

  • Sniffer Dogs: As a pilot scheme, two sniffer dogs were put into action in August this year at Heathrow. Australia has 82 sniffer dogs to detect illegal meat. As the NFU said: ‘Two detector dogs are a start but something nearer 200 are required to provide the level of protection that British livestock deserve. Those two dogs will have their work cut out checking the 219,178 bags that arrive at Heathrow every day.’ (The Times, 20 December 2002).