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Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Is not the fallacy in the Minister's argument illustrated by the fact that recently five plants in China have been licensed by the EU to export chicken meat to Europe, yet they have not been properly or fully inspected by EU inspectors? There is no way of knowing whether those meat products will meet the standards required in this country. Whatever the theory may be, in practice those products are coming in and do not meet our standards.
Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend makes an exceptionally strong point that cannot be refuted. It is
Mr. Drew: The hon. Lady may be intrigued to know that, during its visit to Brussels and to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, the Select Committee on Agriculture took up that point. Representatives of third-world countries regarded the demands of the EU to inspect as somewhat protectionist, so there is a balance to be reached. It is not as clear-cut as the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) alleges. A degree of checking goes on. It can always be improved, but the position is not that clear cut.
Mrs. Winterton: The hon. Gentleman has made his point. I am not in a position to know whether the plants that he knows about have been inspected properly. I am not so concerned about whether China believes that we are trying to protect our market. If we are, we are doing so for good reasons of animal husbandry and for the quality of the food produced.
I wish the hon. Gentleman well in his travels. I understand that the Select Committee will be going even further afield in due course. No doubt in the Tea Room he will tell me of his experiences. As he travels, not as an ordinary person, but as a member of a Select Committee, I hope that he will take the opportunity to go around every airport, open his eyes and look at what other countries do. If he goes to New Zealand, or even perhaps South Africa and the United States, that will be a very good experience for him. What he sees will bear out everything that I have said.
I think that I have spoken for far too long[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Hear, hear? Everyone has been asking me to give way and I have been very generous. If I had not given way, Members would have been critical. I apologise if I have spoken for too long, but I heartily recommend the new clause. It is not necessarily perfect. It does not necessarily go far enough but it puts down a solid marker as to what the Government might do to bring immediate improvement to the dreadful situation that faces the UK as a result of the importation of illegal meat and meat products.
Diana Organ: In health policy, whether it is about human or animal health, the essence is to prevent rather than to cure. Any health policy should include measures to prevent the disease, rather than deal with the symptoms. That is a positive way forward. As a result, I support new clause 4.
It is important that we take this issue forward. The terrible events of foot and mouth over the summer show that we must do something to make controls on imports much tighter. We do not yet know how foot and mouth came into this country. There are three inquiries on the go but they have not published their reports yet. The most important one in relation to this issue is the inquiry about
We are not sure where the FMD outbreak came from. It is highly likelybut it is only speculationthat it came from the importation of illegal meat that entered the food chain, possibly because certain farmers did not observe the recommendations on the use of swill. As we heard from the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), other countries appear to have tighter controls, and we have rehearsed the reports of holiday entries into north America, which has greater questioning, monitoring and controls. According to the hon. Lady, it seems that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee may have the opportunity to visit New Zealand, and it would look carefully at the import controls in place in Auckland should it do so.
We do not seem to have those import controls at our ports and airports and it is right to put them into legislation. However, to do so, we need more resources. The current officials of the port animal health teams do not have sufficient resources to carry out the checks that would be necessary. It is right that we should put the resources in. One can always call for more resources, but if we are seeking to improve our biosecurity, they will be necessary. At the moment, through the Bill and other measures, we ask farmers to look to biosecurity when there is an outbreak of disease, whether of classical swine fever or FMD.
Mrs. Browning: I do not disagree with the hon. Lady's remarks, but I am puzzled on one point. It is clear that new measures will require new resources, but why does new clause 4 not contain a recommendation to that effect?
Diana Organ: The new clause would provide for an annual report, and it would automatically follow that better import controls could not be instituted without resources. If we are to have good national biosecurity, we need to put the resources in. The Minister has rightly said
Mr. Paice: I agree with much of what the hon. Lady says, but she cannot be allowed to get away with asserting that we should be worried only about those people who, to paraphrase her remarks, are in it commercially. We have heard many stories of people bringing large quantities of meat into Heathrow in private suitcases, and they presumably do not do so on spec but have a destination for it. The problem goes further than that. What should be done about the countless number of much smaller items such as ham sandwiches and other consumer items that are brought in? [Interruption.] Before the hon. Lady seeks to ridicule that question, I assure her that if she tried to take such items into Australia or the US she would not get past the first post. We should take the same care in this country.
Diana Organ: We need a risk assessment. We cannot absolutely eradicate all risk of people bringing in the last little bit of a ham sandwich tucked into their pockets. In the examples that we have heard about, of suitcases going round Heathrow with blood dripping from them, the system has caught up with the travellers responsible and prevented such illegal importation. What we need to do now is to provide more resources, and an annual report, to help to tackle the problem of people who import illegally as a commercial business, in the way that Customs and Excise tackle the illegal importation of alcohol and tobacco products. We need a proportionate responsethat phrase was much used in Committeeand I am much more concerned about larger quantities of meat that might enter the food chain than about the naive traveller with his accidentally imported bit of ham sandwich.
Mr. Paice: I draw the hon. Lady's attention to the conclusions of the Department's scientists that the outbreak of swine fever in the late summer and early autumn of last year was caused by the illegal importation of a pig product, assumed to be a pork pie or a ham sandwich. The consequences for the pig industry in East Anglia were devastating and that is why we cannot ignore that relatively small problem.