Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Corporation of London (as London Port Health Authority) (F10)


  1.  The Corporation of London is the Port Health Authority (PHA) for the port of London, which encompasses the tidal Thames, the lower Medway, the former upper river London Docks, and all the wharves and quays on the river. In particular, it has jurisdiction over the major ports of Tilbury, Thamesport (Isle of Grain) and Sheerness as well as London City Airport.

  2.  Consequently, it has responsibility for the inspection of imported foods and monitoring of products of animal origin (POAO) imported from third countries outside the European Community. Tilbury, Thamesport and Sheerness are all European Commission (EC) approved Border Inspection Posts (BIPs) for the importation of POAO.

  3.  Tilbury is the largest BIP in the UK in terms of meat and meat products, whilst Thamesport handles foodstuffs from a wide range of countries, notably the far east. London City Airport is not a BIP, and the difficulties that this creates will be addressed later in this submission.


  4.  There are two routes through which meat can be smuggled in via the port of London: i) via the major sea ports and ii) via London City Airport. There is currently no evidence to suggest that the smaller wharves and ports are being used for the illegal importation of POAO.

  5.  Since the Foot and Mouth crisis, there have been several seizures of smuggled POAO at the sea ports, notably one of 3,500kg of Chinese hams detected at Thamesport in a consignment of mixed foodstuffs. Illegal imports are usually part of a large consignment of mixed foodstuffs.

  6.  At London City Airport there are regular seizures from passenger baggage—up to 150 a year. These range from a few kilograms to 50kg of all types of POAO including bush meat, smoked meat and fish products. These usually originate in West Africa, and are carried by passengers who have transited via another European Airport. The luggage is not monitored at airports en-route, so the only check is carried out at the final destination.


  7.  Offices at the sea ports are staffed seven days a week and manifests for all imports from third countries are received well in advance of each vessel's arrival. This enables controls to be exercised, such as the Veterinary Checks regime, and detention and inspection of imported foodstuffs. Where mixed consignments are received, or where details of the goods are insufficient, enquiries are made and importers provide packing lists and copy invoices which show the types of commodity contained in them. Further checks and inspections are made as appropriate, and local intelligence used to determine which consignments are to be subject to a full out-turn, ie all the contents of the shipping container removed for inspection.

  8.  At London City Airport, there is not a full time presence by Port Health officials, and illegal imports are usually detected by HM Customs or Airport Staff, who notify the PHA. A procedure is in place, but heavy reliance is placed on the other organisations to notify Port Health of any suspicious packages. However, Port Health Inspectors have worked in conjunction with HM Customs to target certain flights when necessary.


  9.  At the seaports, although details of all consignments are obtained, there are considerable resource implications to out-turn a container both for the Port and the PHA. Whilst costs for checking legal consignments of POAO can be recovered from the importer, it is extremely difficult to do so for smuggled consignments. In addition, no charges can be levied for checks on consignments of foodstuffs that do not contain POAO. It follows that the PHA has to pay for any spot-checks and monitoring of goods for smuggled items.

  10.  Whilst manifests for vessels carrying cargo loaded in the EU are also checked for foodstuffs, little action can be taken for consignments that have EU status. The UK is reliant on other member states carrying out an equivalent level of checks to detect smuggled goods, including POAO, prior to them being allowed free movement across borders.

  11.  At London City Airport (and indeed at any other ports that are not BIPs) there is inadequate cover to check for smuggled POAO. Although HM Customs are co-operative, they have their own priorities. Again, the London Port Health Authority does not have the resources to provide full time cover and cannot recover any costs.


  12.  The Corporation supports the Government Action Plan, but considers that further measures could be adopted to improve controls. These are as follows:

    —  Prior notification of all foodstuffs to PHAs. It is a requirement that all POAO are notified in advance to the Authorities, but this is not the case for other foods. As illegal POAO are frequently smuggled with other foods, it would greatly assist in their identification if all consignments of foodstuffs were notified in advance.

    —  Sufficient funding for PHAs. As PHAs cannot recover costs in their attempts to detect smuggled POAO, they need to have sufficient resources to tackle the problem effectively. Currently, much of their funding is provided by local ratepayers.

    —  A total ban on personal imports of POAO. Very few travellers abide by the legal limits for personal imports. If there were a total ban, there could be no dispute over any attempt to smuggle items, and there could be no misunderstanding over the allowance.

    —  Further work in conjunction with other Member States to ensure that illegal imports of POAO are detected at the first point of entry into the Community.

    —  Legislation to include the current provision contained in Section 20(7) of the Products of Animal Origin (Imports and Exports) Regulations 1996 which requires the operator of any place of import to notify the Authorities of any POAO that has not been imported via a BIP. This would assist smaller sea ports and airports such as London City, and ensure that operators of enhanced remote transit sheds notify the Authorities of any POAO found with other foodstuffs.

    —  Powers should also be given to Port Health Officers to examine all consignments of imported goods, even those that do not contain foodstuffs, as this would enable spot checks to be carried out for smuggled POAO should there be any intelligence to suggest that it is present.

  13.  A meeting was convened on 24 April by the Association of Port Health Authorities for representatives to consider how additional resources could be deployed to assist Port Health Authorities in detecting illegal POAO and subsequently taking enforcement action. It was agreed that the following suggestions should be put to DEFRA:

    —  DEFRA should control the funding which should be targeted at problem areas.

    —  Teams of six qualified officers should be based at the major sea and airports throughout the country and should be able to be diverted to other areas if necessary.

    —  The teams should concentrate on the searching of food and other consignments as well as passenger baggage.

    —  Government should enhance publicity on this issue.

    —  Guidance and/or a code of practice should be issued to the teams to ensure a consistent approach.

  The Corporation supports this initiative which would allow resources to be deployed where they are required most.

May 2002

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