New penalties aim to curtail illegal exports
TIGHTER enforcement of suspected illegal beef exports and increased checks at ports were promised by MAFF this week after it ordered two meat plants, suspected of breaking the beef ban, to stop trading.
Farm minister Jack Cunningham said it was necessary to introduce new laws to block a legal loophole which had prevented agricultural inspectors taking enforcement action against traders exporting British beef to the EU.
The move, which will introduce a specific offence and penalties for exporting beef in breach of the export ban, was also designed to reassure the UKs EU partners.
Dr Cunningham said: "The UK is under an obligation to implement and enforce the export ban firmly and effectively for as long as it is in place. Only in this way will we regain the trust of our European partners, which is an essential prerequisite to an early lifting of the ban."
He said the companies involved had failed to comply with the basic requirements of record-keeping and hygiene standards, and again stressed criminal proceedings would be instigated if evidence of illegal activity was found. But it would be sometime before investigations were complete.
Dr Cunningham made the announcement shortly before appearing before the European Parliaments BSE temporary committee of inquiry in Strasbourg on Tuesday. He admitted the breach the beef export ban had probably done the UK "some significant harm". EU consumer affairs commissioner Emma Bonino told the committee that legal action against the UK over its inadequate checks on beef exports had already started.n