Lax import rules threaten health

18 July 2001

‘Lax import rules threaten health’

By Alistair Driver

HUMAN health could be endangered unless the government tightens regulations on imports, farmers leaders have warned.

Foot-and-mouth, — almost certainly caused by illegal meat imports — which has devastated livestock is bad enough, said the National Farmers Union.

But in a worst-case scenario illegal imports could harbour horrific human diseases like Ebola, which dissolves human organs, claims the union.

At the NFU council meeting in London on Wednesday (18 July) union leaders called for a comprehensive review of the way food imports are regulated.

Food standards committee chairman Michael Seals presented a report, which the union says exposes a number of flaws in the present regulatory system.

He said the volume of illegal meat and plant products coming into the UK each year could be thousands of tonnes.

Other diseases imported into the UK in recent years include swine fever; brown rot, which affects potatoes; and Newcastle disease, which infects poultry.

“The Government must treat last years swine-fever outbreak and the current foot-and-mouth disaster as urgent warning signals,” said Mr Seals.

“If it fails to act it runs the risk of endangering not only animals, but the human population as well.”

He added: “Foot-and-mouth has been a complete catastrophe, but this could pale almost to insignificance compared with what would happen if serious human diseases like Ebola ever reached our shores.”

The union is demanding that more time and money is spent protecting the UK from illegal imports to keep out further serious human, animal and plant diseases.

Among its 16 recommendations to the government are:

  • Changes to the funding and staffing levels of the bodies employed to check imports and effective co-ordination of their activities.

  • Action on the “loophole” of mail-order and Internet trading.

  • A massive information campaign to alert travellers to what they can and cant bring into the UK.

  • Fines for travellers who break the rules. If this doesnt work, a complete ban on personal imports across the EU should be considered.

  • Harmonisation of the control systems for plants and animals, potentially bringing together the Port Health Authorities and the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate.


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