12 July 2002

Illegal meat imports still flooding into UK

By FW reporters

ILLEGAL imports of potentially contaminated meat continue to flood into the UK, the European parliaments foot-and-mouth committee has been told.

Giving evidence Clive Lawrance of handling company Ciel Logistics described how, just three weeks ago, he helped intercept a lorry load of smoked sheep carcasses destined for the ethnic market in central London.

"The 100 carcasses, which we believe came from Ireland or France via Wales, had an estimated value of £12,000. They were from four or five-year-old sheep, yet all had their intestines, spinal cords and brains intact.

"The meat was tested and found to have three different viruses, including pneumonia," said Mr Lawrance. "My cameraman is still in hospital with pneumonia and I am just recovering."

Based on his companys experience at Heathrow Airport, Mr Lawrance estimated as much as 10t of bush meat was coming in from Africa every week.

"One smoked monkey will fetch £350 on the street," he said, providing criminal gangs with a high incentive.

Yet UK government action was minimal, he told the committee. "I warned the government nine months before F&M began what was going on and that these diseases could easily escape into the EU. But it acted as if nothing was wrong."

These comments were echoed by Mike Young, head of environmental services for Crawley Borough Council, which deals with Gatwick Airport.

His staff made 257 seizures of illegal foodstuffs from just 30 targeted flights last year, including 2.75t of meat. "Not all the passengers were searched, so this is probably an underestimate of the amount of meat coming in."

The biggest problem, he said, was lack of resources. Legislation had recently been changed to give environmental health officers powers to check passenger bags, but no extra staff had been made available.

But EU director of animal health Checchi Lang told the committee the commission was tightening measures on ending the allowance of 1kg of meat that can be legally imported by travellers coming back to the EU.

Meanwhile, Junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty and celebrity chef Antony Worrall-Thompson helped the government launch a campaign to halt illegal food imports at Heathrow Airport on Monday (July 8).

Called Dont Bring Back More Than You Bargained For, the campaign targets holidaymakers and uses posters, leaflets and a web-sites to detail banned or restricted items.

Illegal products include raw and dried meats, fresh and smoked fish and dairy items, pot plants and potatoes.

"Farmers and others are playing their part to help prevent the spread of disease, but more needs to be done to prevent disease entering the country in the first place," said Lord Whitty.

Mr Worrall-Thompson, who is also a pig breeder, said: "Harmful bacteria and viruses arent visible. So, if in doubt, leave it out."