24 August 2001

Tourists bring in disease risks

By Isabel Davies

ALMOST half the British tourists returning from abroad over the Bank Holiday could be carrying illegal food imports – and with them the risk of diseases such as foot-and-mouth, swine fever and ebola.

A survey released by the NFU on Thu, Aug 23, suggests that half of all international travellers have no idea what food and plant materials they are allowed to bring into the UK. A BBC TV programme screened earlier in the week also revealed how easily meat, which is potentially harmful to human and animal health, can be imported and then put on sale.

NFU Scotland president Jim Walker said he was horrified by the BBCs 4×4 programme which showed illegal imports coming through airports and ports.

He added: "The programme was filmed just last week and it made my stomach churn to see that six months after F&M was somehow imported into this country, the government has still not got any control over this illegal trade."

British Pig Executive chairman Richard Campbell said: "The effects of bringing this meat into the country are potentially horrendous. There needs to be a major publicity campaign to make the travelling public aware of the dangers of importing illegal meat which already happens in many other countries."

Former farm minister Nick Brown did actually announce a publicity campaign last May. But the NFU findings suggest that it was totally inadequate. Most toursits are blissfully unaware of the risks from importing food. Of 1000 people questioned nearly 70% were unaware they could face fines of £5000 and two years in jail for breaking import laws.

Milk from Florida

Nearly 20% of people questioned said they thought there was no problem in bringing cartons of milk back from Florida. One third believed they could bring back potted plants from South Africa. The union responded to the findings by handing leaflets to tourists at Gatwick airport.

NFU food standards committee chairman, Michael Seals said: "International travel is a boon of our time but it carries a host of hidden dangers, including the threat of foreign animal, plant or even human diseases. Farmers are incensed, while we are battling foot-and-mouth, it seems nothing has been done to close the door on imported diseases." &#42