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

Memorandum submitted by The Association of Port Health Authorities (F15)


  1.  The Association of Port Health Authorities represents the interests of Local Authorities and Port Health Authorities which have responsibilities for sea and airports in the United Kingdom. It represents the majority of such authorities and includes all the major sea and airports. The Association acts as a consultee in respect of new legislation and has, for many years, held regular liaison meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Department of Health and more recently, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency.

  2.  The Member Authorities of the Association have responsibility for the inspection of imported foods and products of animal origin (POAO) imported from third countries. Through its Imported Food Committee and Border Inspection Post Liaison Committee, the Association works to ensure consistency of enforcement throughout the UK.


  3.  Illegal imports are detected by Member Authorities both at seaports and airports. Member Authorities report evidence of regular seizures from passenger baggage at airports, including considerable quantities of "bush meat" carried by passengers, generally from West Africa. At the seaports our Member Authorities report a number of seizures of meat products, smuggled in consignments of mixed foodstuff. Such illegal imports generally form part of a larger consignment and are either not declared or misdeclared on accompanying documentation.


  4.  A major problem at seaports is that although information on consignments is available, there are serious resource implications in devanning containers both for Port Health Authority and Port operators. Costs for consignments of POAO are recovered from the importer. However, it is less easy to do so for smuggled consignments. Another problem is that no charges can be made for checks on consignments of foodstuffs which do not contain POAO. As a consequence, the Port Health Authority has to resource any such checks for identifying smuggled items from local taxpayers.

  5.  Whilst manifests for vessels carrying cargo from other member states are also checked for foodstuffs, there is little that can be done to control consignments that have EU status. Consequently, the UK depends on other member states having an equivalent regime to enforce controls on imported foods, and in particular to identify smuggled goods.

  6.  At airports there are serious problems encountered by Port Health Authorities when attempting to identify imported foods. Many of the consignments leave the airport destined for Enhanced Remote Transit Sheds (ERTS). This happens within minutes of the cargo being removed from the aircraft. There is not adequate control at ERTS to ensure that illegal imports are adequately identified and dealt with.


  7.  The Association supports the Government action plan but feels that further measures might be adopted to strengthen controls.

    —  Prior notification of all foodstuff to Port Health Authorities. It is a requirement that POAO are notified in advance to PHAs but this does not necessarily happen for non-animal origin foods. The frequent smuggling of illegal meat with other foods is clearly a considerable risk and it would be of assistance if all consignments of foodstuffs were subject to mandatory notification.

    —  Adequate funding needs to be made available for PHAs to properly tackle the problem. At the moment, much of the funding for imported food control is met from local tax.

    —  The Association seeks a total ban on personal imports of products of animal origin. Most travellers do not conform with the legal requirements for personal imports. If a total ban were put in place, there could be no dispute over any attempt to smuggle items.

    —  There should be further work through the European Commission with other member states to ensure that illegal imports are detected at the first point of entry into the European Union.

    —  Powers should be given to Port Health Authorities to examine all consignments of imported goods, whether or not they contain foodstuffs, to enable random checks to be made for smuggled POAO.

  8.  The Association convened a meeting on 24 April 2002 for representatives to consider how any potential additional resources might be used to improve the detection of illegal POAO, and follow up enforcement action. It was agreed that the following suggestions should be made to DEFRA:

    —  Control of funding should be by DEFRA and could then be targeted at identified problem areas. Teams of six appropriately qualified officers should be based at the major sea and airports across the UK and should be able to be diverted to others areas to respond as necessary.

    —  The team should concentrate on searching for food and other consignments, in addition to 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.

June 2002

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