29 March 2002

DEFRAcall for illegal food action

DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett has called for government, the travel sector and food and farming industries to work in partnership to tackle the problem of illegal food imports.

Speaking ahead of the first ever illegal food imports summit on Thursday (March 21), Mrs Beckett said the government could not tackle the problem by itself.

"We want to encourage a partnership approach that will work towards minimising the risk to the UK from the harm that illegal imports can place on our public and animal health and our environment, " she said.

Farmers claim illegal meat imports are the most likely cause of foot-and-mouth and warn the UK is at risk from other diseases because the problem has not been addressed.

Mrs Beckett said the aim of the meeting, which she announced at the NFU AGM in February, was to agree what the priorities should be.

The forum would examine the level of risk posed by illegal imports and what enforcement action is judged appropriate to that level of risk, she said.

It would also look at whether new legal powers are required to underpin enforcement efforts and how to increase public awareness of rules on imports of meat and plant products.

"It is paramount that we have in place a safety net to protect the UK. &#42

from the risk of exotic disease from illegal imports so that consumer and producers can go about their business with confidence and the public can feel safe about their food and the environment," she said.

Farm leaders, vets and representatives of travel firms and enforcement agencies were all invited to the meeting in London.

An action plan which reflects the groups agreed views on action points will be made public shortly, said DEFRA.