Muckspreader 29/03 Private Eye
Last November the Beloved Leader's farming supremo Rosa Klebb (aka Mrs
Beckett) announced that responsibility for keeping out the illegal imports of
infected meat blamed for Britain's £8 billion foot and mouth disaster would now
rest solely with customs officials at our ports and airports. No evidence
has ever been produced to prove that imported meat did bring the disease into
the country. But from the moment the epidemic began, farmers were agitating for
Britain to adopt something like the system in place in the USA, Australia and
New Zealand, whereby the most rigorous checks are made on all incoming
passengers and their baggage.
Just before Christmas Rosa's new system was put to the test by
one of Britain's ever-growing number of ex-dairy farmers, Peter Weston-Davies,
when he arrived at Stansted airport from a holiday in France. Pushing his
trolley full of freshly-shot venison, he marched into the EU passport holders'
area, to find no customs officer. Anxious to confirm that Britain was now being
properly protected against any repeat of the 2001 catastrophe), he therefore
headed for the red non-EU passport holders' zone, designated for passengers with
'something to declare'. Again, no customs officer was on duty, but at
least there was a telephone for passengers to alert customs staff that they
wished their baggage to be inspected.
Down the line, he asked for someone to look over his pack of meat. He
was told he would have to wait four and a half hours, the time it would take an
inspector to drive to Stansted. So startled was he by this approach that he
decided to change his tune. What, he asked, if he confessed that it was not
venison he was pushing in his trolley but a consignment of crack cocaine. The
customs official laughed and said "Then you'd better just keep pushing, sir".
In March 2001, when the foot and mouth epidemic was at its height, the
Maffia were only too keen to claim that the disease must have been caused by
illegal imports of meat.
Farming minister Nick Brown even suggested, again on no evidence at all,
that the epidemic must have been started by smuggled meat served in a Newcastle
Chinese restaurant (for which he later had to issue a grovelling apology, if
oniy on the grounds that his claim might have been interpreted as racist).
A legal meat importer Clive Lawrance revealed, with the aid of
Farmers Weekly, that thousands of tons of illicit meat were coming into Britain
each year and that there were virtually no controls in place to stop it. In
October 2001 even the NFU submitted a 30,000-signature petition to the
government, asking for something to be done.
Finally last year junior farming minister Lord Whitty proudly announced
that two specially-trained sniffer dogs would be sent to Heathrow to trot along
the conveyor belts checking passengers' luggage. In October Farmers Weekly
reported that a dispute over office costs had led to a delay in the setting up
of a six-man team to target illegal meat imports at Heathrow. In December Mr
Weston-Davies tested whether the system was yet working at Stansted, with the
results reported above. Now the word is that one of the dogs at Heathrow has
developed an aversion to conveyor belts and has been allowed to stay in its
kennel with a sick note. For zeal in policing Britain's frontiers, it scarcely
compares with the hundreds of customs officials recruited to steal 20,000
vehicles from cross-channel motorists for the crime of bringing in a few cartons
of B and H.