1. We agree that risk will never be eliminated,
and that proportionate steps need to be taken (paragraph 9).
2. The degree of uncertainty about the scale of
the problem at the border, particularly if greater certainty can
be achieved through the risk assessment about other points on
the 'pathway', such as preventing a disease spreading to animals,
may mean that changes to policy focus on, for example, the farm
gate rather than the port of entry. Nevertheless, we recommend
that the Government continue to retain and upgrade the information
it gathers about illegal meat imports to enable it to keep the
results of its risk assessment under review (paragraph 12)
3. We therefore recommend that full details of
the risk assessment, including assumptions made and information
that would improve the assumptions, are published with the risk
assessment so that it is clear to all stakeholders why particular
actions are pursued. Whatever measures are agreed they must not
be seen as an alternative to effective biosecurity at home
The Department agrees that risk will never be eliminated,
and measures should be proportionate. The Department is continuing
to invest in upgrading its ILAPS database, to improve the quality
and speed of data gathering and dissemination of the intelligence
thus gained. The Department recognises that monitoring risk should
be a continuing process. We will be putting in place measures
to keep the risk of illegal imports under review in the light
of the outcome of the current risk assessment.
Details of progress on the risk assessment are regularly
updated on the Illegal Imports website [www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/illegali]
and the Department accepts the recommendation to make public the
assumptions of the risk assessment model for clarity. The Department
will publish the risk assessment when it is completed later this
autumn. The Department agrees that measures to combat illegal
imports should not be seen as an alternative to effective biosecurity
measures within the UK.
4. We believe that the Food Standards Agency should
reexamine its decision not to undertake a risk assessment
on the human health implications of illegal meat imports in parallel
with the current study (paragraph 14).
The Food Standards Agency have been closely involved
in the risk assessment study, and have naturally considered whether
there was a need to look at specific public health threats alongside
those to animals. Defra and the FSA have concluded that the nature
of the potential public health threats was such that the existing
study would highlight problem areas of illegal imports not meeting
hygiene standards. It could thus provide useful information from
a public health perspective. Additionally, the methodology that
has been used for the study could in future be applied to a public
health risk assessment, and the FSA will keep this under review.
5. We recommend that the costs considered when
assessing new policies to deal with illegal meat imports do not
just include those faced by Government, but also those faced by
the whole food chain. To put any measures into context there were
more than 60 million passenger movements through Heathrow alone
last year. This demonstrates the scale of the tasks involved and
the risk/benefit relationship (paragraph 15).
The Department agrees. A number of stakeholders from
the agricultural, tourism, catering and retail sectors have been
consulted during the development of policy on illegal imports
via the Forum and some sit on the Risk Assessment Steering Group.
The Cabinet Office study into the organisation of the Government's
controls of imports of animals, plants and their products, and
conclusions drawn from the risk assessment, will take account
of the need to facilitate legitimate trade as well as tackle illegal
6. The United Kingdom Government must enter into
international discussions aimed at ensuring effective monitoring
of the export trade in order to bear down on any illegality. To
assist such discussions it must demonstrate that its own house
is in order, by making sure that inspections of exports from the
United Kingdom are effective. We are moreover pleased that port
health authority officers already have some form of system for
advising each other of developments but are concerned that it
is not centrally coordinated we hope that the establishment
of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' Illegal
Animal Products Seizures (ILAPS) database will assist this process
As members of the Office International des Epizooties
(OIE), we regularly participate in international discussions aimed
at allowing trade without spreading disease.
There is no legal basis on which to prevent the export
of animals or products to third countries, with or without an
official certificate and regardless of the importing country's
requirements. However, UK and EU rules on animal health ensure
that products posing a risk of spreading serious disease cannot
be placed on the market and so are not available for export. These
rules maintain our high animal health status. As a consequence,
our products do not present the same risk that those of some third
countries present to the UK (for example where FMD is endemic).
We recognise the need to minimise long distance movements
of live animals for slaughter, and to apply strict biosecurity
7. Granting the power to stop people to port health
authority officers is not entirely straightforward. Nevertheless,
we recognise the strength of the case made for such new powers.
We therefore welcome the fact that the powers available to port
health authority officers will be reviewed, and we recommend that
the Government report the outcome of that review to Parliament
within a year (paragraph 17).
A longterm decision on search powers will take
into account the outcome of the Cabinet Office Review into the
organisation of the Government's controls on legitimate trade
and illegal imports. The results of these observations will be
brought before parliament within the year. In the meantime, the
Department will keep under review the effectiveness of the existing
search (and detain luggage) powers over the coming months.
8. We are concerned that no guidance was issued
with the new powers. At the very least draft guidance should have
been prepared, to help officers understand the new powers available
to them, on the understanding that detailed guidance would be
based on that draft guidance and experience of how the new powers
worked. We hope that the new guidance published in August will
address our concerns, and that it will be regularly reviewed and
updated to take account of the experience of using the new powers
The new powers were implemented following requests
from enforcement authorities. Under these circumstances the Department
did not, initially, recognise that there was an explicit need
for guidance. However, the Department is in constant contact with
the enforcement authorities and acted quickly to produce guidance
once that deficiency was recognised. The Department accepts that
in future, guidance should be prepared in advance of the granting
of such powers. We agree that the guidance should be reviewed
and updated in the light of experience.
9. We ask that the Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs explain that delay [in putting in place
new Regulations] (paragraph 19).
It had been hoped when the action plan was published
in March that the regulations would be made in April and come
into force 21 days later. They are highly technical and there
were some late details which had to be addressed. This meant that
they were not in fact made until 1 May and came into force on
10. We recommend that the Government assess the
costs and benefits of this proposal [to require prior notification
of all imports not just those of meat] against the findings
of the risk assessment.
The Department notes this recommendation. Such a
change would need to be made at an EU level. Trade Bodies and
other government departments would need to be consulted to assess
the impact on legitimate trade.
11. The current allowances for personal imports
of food, particularly meat and fish, are very confusing. We therefore
firmly support the Government in their objective of securing a
ban on the personal import of meat products. However, if the European
Union does not bring forward better and more effective measures
to deal with this potential abuse the United Kingdom should give
notice that it will introduce unilateral action (paragraph 23).
The Government is pleased that the Committee supports
its efforts to secure tighter and clearer controls on personal
imports of animal products within Community law. The European
Commission agreed new interim rules on 20 September 2002. These
will strengthen border controls for third country imports to the
EU. Once formally adopted, personal imports of meat, meat products,
milk and milk products will be prohibited for travellers entering
the UK from 1 January 2003. With exceptions for infant and special
medical foods, all other meat and milk products will have to be
surrendered on arrival to the UK for official disposal, unless
they comply with strict veterinary certification. Up to 1kg of
food not containing meat or milk derivatives will be permitted
without the need for declaration for veterinary control. The Government
believes that this decision represents an improvement on the existing
position. In the longer term, however, we would hope for greater
simplification of the rules.
It is to be noted that any breach of Community law
on the part of a Member State risks infraction proceedings being
brought against that State by the Commission.
12. We believe it is in the airports', the airlines'
and the Government's interest to have passengers flowing freely
at airports and believe that the greater availability of information
and consequent lesser need for checks of passengers would facilitate
this (paragraph 24)
13. We believe that the provision of information
inflight is essential, and we recommend that the Government
urgently seek to persuade airlines to distribute written leaflets,
and show videos as appropriate, setting out the restrictions on
personal imports of meat and other foods. If airlines will not
do so voluntarily we recommend that the Government take steps
to obtain legal powers to compel them to do so (paragraph 25).
The Department agrees that carriers have an important
role to play in informing their customers of the import regulations.
The Department has been providing airports with information leaflets
and posters. As part of the publicity campaign launched on 8th
July, effort has been increased to persuade airlines and travel
agents, amongst others, to distribute the Department's leaflets
and posters and to show the video that is being produced under
the slogan 'Don't bring back more than you bargained for'. We
will continue efforts to persuade passenger carriers to take these
measures voluntarily and note that the draft EU Decision on personal
imports of meat, milk and their products requires all member states
to make arrangements for international transport operators to
make their passengers aware of EU import rules.
14. Although we welcome the trial use of
dogs to detect illegal meat imports it would be helpful if the
Government were to publish the objectives of the pilot scheme
and the criteria against which its success will be judged (paragraph
The Department accepts this recommendation and terms
of reference are attached at Annex 2.
15. We accept that there are limitations and problems
with the proposals to use xray equipment and provide amnesty
bins, but we agree with Lord Whitty that both could be valuable
in raising public awareness. We therefore recommend that both
be carefully piloted and assessed for their efficacy in terms
of addressing the problem of illegal meat imports and of raising
public awareness of the problem (paragraph 28).
The Department agrees. The pros and cons of the use
of both are being actively considered with other stakeholders.
There is undoubtedly a positive commitment to increase the avenues
for travellers to surrender illicit products they have unwittingly
brought into the country, but there are concerns, over security
in particular, about the use of amnesty bins which need to be
addressed before a pilot can commence. In the meantime, the shortterm
priority will be to improve the use of the red channel in all
A trial of xray equipment will be running this
16. In the longer term there is a case for greater
integration of agencies and management, and we recommend that
Government bring forward a model of a single agency. In the medium
term agencies should commit themselves to improving the way they
work together. In the short term it would be helpful if the terms
of the review of the roles of the agencies involved in dealing
with food imports was published (paragraph 30).
The Department recognises that there needs to be
better coordination of the agencies working in this area,
and that greater integration is one possible longerterm
option. The Machinery of Government Secretariat of the Cabinet
Office is currently undertaking a study looking at the organisational
arrangements for regulating legitimate trade and tackling the
illegal import of products of animal origin, nonanimal origin
(food), plants and plant products (including forestry products)
as well as trade in endangered species and nonnative species.
The full terms of reference of this review are at annex 1. In
the short term, the Department is working closely with other departments
and agencies to better coordinate action and share information.
17. We are concerned that despite wellplaced,
intelligencebased suspicion, operations to check flights
are often only mounted when a team can be put together through
the efforts of one official from the port health authority. There
is clearly a need for much higherlevel coordination
of such activity, since it appears that the Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs is not currently fulfilling its 'overarching
role' in this area. Operations against particular flights would
also benefit from agreed commitments, from all the agencies involved,
to the amount of time they are able to devote to operations against
illegal meat imports. We acknowledge that there may be times when
HM Customs and Excise officers, in particular, would be diverted
to more critical work but feel that the higherlevel coordination
we propose would be better able to take account of such problems.
Moreover, although we acknowledge that other agencies, including
the Food Standards Agency, feel that they should become responsible
for these matters, we are inclined to believe that the Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should be the lead body
in dealing with illegal imports of meat and other foods (paragraph
The Department agrees with the principle and is doing
more to fulfil its 'overarching role'. It has been working to
meet the needs of enforcement agencies for guidance on their powers
and the roles and responsibilities of all the enforcement authorities.
Funding (some £1.5m) has been made available this financial
year for additional checks on imports and the Department is working
closely with all the enforcement agencies to ensure that these
will be coordinated and effective.
18. We accept that resources currently allocated
to dealing with the problem of illegal meat imports are not adequate,
and are not secure at port level. We recommend that, once the
risk assessment and the review of the roles of the agencies involved
in dealing with illegal food imports have been completed, the
Government provide adequate funds to meet their recommendations,
and consider how they can be secured to the functions required
Defra has been allocated further resources as an
outcome of the Spending Review and we are looking at how this
money should be spent in the year 2003/04. We will need to take
into account the outcome of the Cabinet Office review and the
19. We are concerned about the long delay between
the problem being acknowledged by Government action was
being considered in March 2001 and substantive action being
taken a year later (paragraph 37).
In January, and again in February 2001, the Department
(at that time MAFF) raised concerns about European Union law on
personal imports at the Standing Veterinary Committee. Consideration
of the action needed to address the issue of illegal imports was
well underway by March 2001, and has been subsequently continued
by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. A ban
on the production and feeding to livestock of swill produced from
catering waste containing meat or products of animal origin came
into effect in May 2001. The central Illegal Animal Products Seizures
database was set up in August 2001, talks were held between the
relevant agencies and agreements established about shared intelligence
and action, and publicity was stepped up both at ports/airports
and, via British posts, in third countries. However the Department
accepts that it was not proactive in making public the steps taken
at these early stages. It also notes that during 2001 its primary
and overriding focus was on controlling and eliminating the devastating
outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
20. Since the Action Plan was published we have
generally been impressed with the speed with which the Government
and stakeholders have acted to address the various elements of
the Plan. We hope that the publication of the risk assessment
in September will provide another stimulus to take the Plan further
forward with urgency.
The Department welcomes the Committee's recognition
of the progress being made and will review its Action Plan in
the light of the reports due this autumn to ensure that action
against illegal imports is increasingly effective and responds
to new and changed risks. An action plan for 2003/04 will then
be discussed with stakeholders and published before the end of
the financial year 2002/03. The risk assessment work will be completed
in September. The published report will follow a few weeks later.