22 March 2002

Food imports control woeful

A GOVERNMENT scientist has dismissed import controls on food products at Britains ports and airports as "woefully inadequate".

David Paton, an epidemiologist at the Institute of Animal Health, told the conference that the threat of re-importing foot-and-mouth to the UK, as well as other diseases affecting both livestock and humans, remained high.

The main reason was persistence of disease in wildlife reservoirs in many countries, coupled with increasing international trade in food and animals.

"We must be aware of what is going on elsewhere in the world, because the problems they are having today are likely to be ours tomorrow," said Dr Paton.

Although it would be impossible to do laboratory analysis on every sample of meat being imported to the UK, Dr Paton said: "It does seem that the amount of time spent checking imports and trying to identify illegal imports is woefully inadequate."

Points of entry

Rural development minister, Ross Finnie, accepted that Britain did not provide similar information to other countries at points of entry warning about the risks of importing food products.

But he insisted that, despite the general feeling that nothing was being done, progress was actually being made.

"Efforts have been stepped up to improve detection and prosecution of deliberate attempts to bring illegal imports into the country," Mr Finnie said.

But Jim Walker, NFU Scotland president, suggested later that this increased surveillance amounted to no more than one dog and its handler looking for illegal meat imports.

Mr Finnie also said that a detailed assessment of the risks posed by meat imports is being undertaken by the Veterinary Laboratory Agency. "This will be critical in targeting efforts and making the case for more resources," he said. &#42