Illegal meat threat

There has been a reduction in the number of Customs officials patrolling UK borders, leading to fears of a rise in illegal meat imports.

A recent government report revealed that between 2006 and 2007 - when there were extra patrols in place to tackle the threat of bird flu - there were more than 35,000 seizures of illegal meat at UK borders.

Last year, seizures fell by 29% due to a scaling back of Customs officials at entry points despite concerns that large volumes of meat are entering the country illegally.

Tory minister for agriculture and rural affairs, Jim Paice, said that he feared the reduction in seizures was simply a reflection of the reduction of effort going into detection. He added that illegally imported meat poses a serious threat for both animal and human health.

"Why I find this so worrying an issue is that illegal meat does not just bring in animal disease, it brings in human diseases as well," he said.

"Bush meat from west Africa has the huge potential for tropical diseases such as the Ebola virus to come in, which could pose a serious public health issue."

Paice pointed out that there was a theory that the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak originated in illegal meat imports.

"Given that foot and mouth in 2001 was in all probability caused by illegal meat coming into the country, it defies belief that at the end of the decade very little action has been taken in terms of improvements to Customs," he said.

Lord Rooker, minister for Sustainable Food and Farming and Animal Health, insisted that while scaling back of patrols could have contributed to the lower numbers of seizures, there are indications that people travelling into the UK are becoming more complaint with import rules relating to food.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has recently launched a short film called 'Don't Bring Me Back'as part of a campaign to highlight the risk associated with bringing illegal meat into the country.

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