Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Seventh Report
The Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs's co-ordinating role
29. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs has "an overarching role to co-ordinate measures
against illegal imports",
although it is just one of a number of organisations with responsibilities
for the importation of foodstuffs. The others are: the Food Standards
Agency, Local Authorities, port health authorities, the State
Veterinary Service, the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate, HM
Customs and the Meat Hygiene Service.
In short, organisation of the management of food import controls
is complex, with different agencies leading on particular issues.
We received representations in favour of a single border control
authority from among other the Airport Operators Association,
and the Food Standards Agency proposed that imports of products
of animal origin should come under its control.
The Association of Port Health Authorities argued that "there
should be one agency to co-ordinate" but suggested that whilst
the control of imports of products of animal origin should rest
with the Food Standards Agency, the Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs should retain responsibility for animal
30. In the Action Plan, the Department undertook
to "provide a published guide on the roles, responsibilities
and powers of relevant agencies for preventing and detecting illegal
consignments of products of animal origin".
Protecting our Livestock and Plants from Pests and Diseases
was published on 1 July 2002.
The guide summarises the controls on imports into Great Britain
of animal products, plants and plant products from non-European
Union countries, and explains the roles of the agencies who enforce
those rules. Lord
Whitty told us that the Government is currently "reviewing
the roles of the various agencies" and that the process would
"last into the autumn".
He did not rule out structural changes but highlighted that whatever
the structure there will need to be "serious management and
We agree. 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
31. During our visit to Heathrow, we were surprised
to learn about the difficulties in organising operations to target
specific flights on which large quantities of illegal personal
imports were suspected. The Association of Port Health Authorities
described a similar process being followed at Gatwick Airport.
The decision on which flights to target was made "on the
basis of information received and experience", and each operation
was undertaken in co-operation with HM Customs and Excise
because they have the powers to stop and search. However, the
co-ordination of such exercises was, in Gatwick at least, down
to a port health authority official who rang around to check the
availability of staff of the other agencies concerned.
In contrast, at Heathrow we were told that the Department for
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had begun to be involved in
co-ordinating such activities. We are concerned that despite
well-placed, intelligence-based 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 higher level co-ordination 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 higher-level co-ordination
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.
32. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs is already the central competent authority, in European
Union terms, for the co-ordination of border inspection posts.
The National Farmers' Union drew our attention to the European
Commission Food and Veterinary Office's report on such posts,
which considered that "the performance of the competent authorities
in respect of overall efficiency of the import control system
in the United Kingdom need considerable improvement".
We summarise below the Food and Veterinary Office team's main
findings. Lord Whitty contended that some of the criticisms were
"exaggerated" although "we do accept that we do
need a better system to allow the oversight of the effort, and
we have agreed with the port operators, with the [inspection post]
operators, a detailed action plan".
The report, together with the team's recommendation that the European
Commission consider the withdrawal of approval for all the border
inspection posts examined,
does give rise to concern about overall co-ordination and direction.
That said, we welcome the Government's response to the report.
33. We heard evidence that at small ports and airports there was no regular presence of port health officers. This does not mean that this channel for illegal importation of meat products is unimportant. Indeed if more effective measures are taken at the larger ports and airports the threat of greater use being made of these channels will grow. It is vital that a full investigation is undertaken of both the scale of illegal imports through this source and of the measures that are in place to deal with them. There is a particular need to improve co-ordination in these localities and to recognise the resource implications of increased demands.
M = Major non-compliance
m = minor non-compliance
C = Compliance
- = not applicable
* Hygiene covers the observed situation on the spot
including e.g. cleaning, maintenance and hygienic necessities
as well as the hygienic operation of the BIP
81 Memorandum submitted by The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ev 40, para 26. Back
Memorandum submitted by
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Ev 37,
para 5. Back
Evidence taken on 2 July
2002, QQ.220--221. Back
Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers' Union, Ev 13, para
1.5.8, citing Final Report of a Mission to the United Kingdom
from 15 to 26 October 2001 concerning Border Inspection Posts,
p. 25. The FVO Report is available at http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/inspections/vi/reports/united_kingdom/vi_rep_unik_3387-2001_en.pdf. Back
|© Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 23 July 2002|