UKs open door to ebola

6 April 2001

UK’s ‘open door to ebola’

By Alistair Driver

SLACK import controls blamed for triggering Britains foot-and-mouth crisis could spark an outbreak of the deadly ebola virus, customs officials have warned.

The foot-and-mouth epidemic has been blamed on infected meat which was smuggled into the country and ended up being fed to pigs.

Now it has emerged that customs officials at Heathrow airport discovered 15 illegally imported dead monkeys which could have contained the ebola virus.

Ebola is one the deadliest diseases known to man. It has devastated pockets of Africa and can claim the lives of thousands of people in weeks.

The consignment of dead monkeys was found hidden in a cargo of vegetables from Africa by Port Health officials at Heathrow last December.

Clive Lawrance, whose company Ciel Logistics removes impounded meat imports from airports, reported the incident to agriculture minister Nick Brown.

“The next day we were informed by Port Health that after laboratory checks we had a risk of ebola contamination,” he wrote in the letter.

Few flights at Heathrow are targeted by officials looking for smuggled meat, said Mr Lawrance. As a result, huge quantities are coming into Britain.

Flights that are targeted often unearth suitcases leaking blood and letting off a dreadful stench, said Mr Lawrance. “There is no need for sniffer dogs,” he said.

The person who imported the monkeys that sparked the ebola scare was arrested. In most cases, however, meat is impounded but no arrests are made.

Mr Lawrance had already warned Mr Brown in a letter a year ago that “unchallenged” illegal meat imports could lead to a foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Customs officials were not prioritising meat imports and the Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF) was constrained by a lack of resources, he told Mr Brown.

“The risk to the community is extremely high given that some of this product may contain diseases such as anthrax, foot-and-mouth and others,” he wrote.

Mr Lawrance said he received one phone call from customs after he wrote the letter last May. But there was “zero response” from MAFF, he added.

Mr Lawrance also claims that Mr Brown ignored a request to meet for “just 30 minutes” to discuss the implications of lax enforcement of import rules.

A MAFF spokeswoman said she knew nothing about the ebola scare or that the consignment of dead monkeys had been seized.

“All meat looks the same when it is seized. It is taken off the premises to be destroyed. We do not have it tested,” she added.

Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks

Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage

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