More measures to tackle illegal imports of meat have been drawn up by the UK government in a revised action plan.

The plan, published today [Tuesday], is backed by an extra £25m (US$39.4) over three years, and takes account of an assessment of the risks of foot and mouth disease from illegal imports, also published today.

From 11 April, Customs and Excise will take responsibility for anti-smuggling controls on illegal imports of meat and other animal products imported directly from non-EU countries at ports and airports.

The proposed new measures include:

  • a new frontier enforcement strategy, with customs aiming to detect illegal imports of meat and animal products

  • four new national strike teams of customs officers whose priority will be meat and animal products

  • more detector dogs

  • continuing risk assessment, intelligence gathering and sharing

  • improved measures and links to other initiatives to prevent disease spreading on farms

  • a new publicity drive to raise awareness of import rules, including in-flight messages and adverts on seven million ticket wallets

The illegal imports risk assessment, carried out by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency and independent consultants SafetyCraft, estimates, with 90% confidence that the amount of illegal meat imported annually is between 2,800 and 17,500 tonnes with an average value of 7,500 tonnes. The amount of this contaminated with FMD virus is estimated to be between 30 and 250kg per year, on average 95kg. Between 20 and 680g (175g on average) of this is ingested by susceptible livestock.

Taking account of the relationship between the dose of the virus needed to cause infection and the susceptibility of the animals, it is estimated that the overall probability of FMD infection in Great Britain from illegal meat and meat products is one infection between 40 years and 1,100 years, or on average one infection in 130 years. This relates only to the risk from illegal imports.

Food and Farming Minister Lord Whitty said, “The risk assessment, an extremely complex exercise, shows that there is an on-going risk from imports, although the level of risk cannot be defined with any precision. It has given us a much better indication about what produce from which regions and which routes and pathways inland carry the greatest risk. This will be important in targeting enforcement activity.”

Ministers will convene a forum of stakeholders to discuss the draft action plan before it is finalised.

More information on the illegal imports risk assessment can be found here.