Illegal imports targeted

British Customs are seizing more illegal meat imports than ever before, according to a report by Defra.

Figures from the Annual Review of Controls on Imports of Animal Products 2006/07, show that seizures of illegally imported animal products rose by 7% last year to 35,001.

Most of the products seized were from Eastern Asia, Western Africa and Eastern Europe, and 81% of the seizures were from countries of origin with higher designated risk.

Although Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) monitors emerging smuggling trends, the majority of seizures were under 20kg, from small family groups, business people and students travelling to the UK for the first time.

Defra works with HMRC and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to combat illegal imports through enforcement and raising public awareness.

There are now 11 specialist detector dogs across the UK working in Customs channels and baggage reclaim areas. They are particularly successful in

identifying illegal imports concealed in baggage and can review large numbers of passengers and their baggage in a short time.

In order to try and prevent illegal imports in the first place, several campaigns have been launched to educate visitors about the legalities of bringing animal products into the UK.

"HMRC continues to deliver an enforcement strategy that targets anti-smuggling activity on the highest risk traffic and to review deployment of resources and react flexibly in response to changes in the pattern of risk," said Jeff Rooker, minister of state for sustainable food and farming, and animal health.

"Seizures have again increased in 2006/07, reflecting the enforcement measures in place. We recognise that these efforts must be maintained. The challenge now is to continue to build on the levels of public awareness, but also to move on to the next stage of encouraging behaviour change - which will be challenging given the surprisingly high level of emotion people associate with their food."

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