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Turkey Meat

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 15 May 2003

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What steps she is taking to restrict turkey meat imports from Brazil which (a) are mis-described and (b) fail to comply with EU vaccine rules. [113298]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Elliot Morley)

Imports are not allowed unless controls on vaccination against major poultry diseases are the same as those in the EU. With the assistance of Customs and Excise and the European Commission, we are looking at the levels of certain turkey products imported from outside the EU during the run-up to Christmas 2002, and whether they comply with EU rules.

I welcome the brief answer that the Minister has given. My concern relates to the use of nitrofurans as antibiotics in turkey meat from Brazil, and the mis-description of imports into this country from Brazil, where products that appear to be marginally treated are dealt with in a different tariff fashion. This has had a major impact on Brandon's Poultry in Scropton, in my constituency. I hope that the Minister can take action to remove this unfair competition.

I know that my hon. Friend has been very active on behalf of his local company and his constituents in respect of this issue. I can reassure him that there are strict controls and regulations on imports from countries such as Brazil. They must come from a slaughterhouse that meets the EU standard, and they must go through border inspection posts, at which there is 100 per cent, inspection of documentation and 50 per cent, physical inspection of the product.

I understand my hon. Friend's point about the use of illegal vaccinations. Tests are being carried out on poultry meat to ensure that such products are not receiving vaccinations that are banned in the EU. We are taking seriously the concerns that have been expressed, and we are currently carrying out a full investigation with the support of Customs and Excise.

I share the concern of the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) about nitrofurans in meat, and the Minister is aware of my concern about illegal meat imports generally, including turkey meat. What does he have to say in response to the comment made by the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency, Dr. Jon Bell, to the Public Accounts Committee yesterday? He said that a ministerial interdepartmental committee on illegal meat imports "is being set up". What does that say about the urgency with which the Government are addressing the question of illegal meat imports, despite all the pressure that we have put on the Minister in the past two years in the wake of foot and mouth and classical swine fever? Is this committee still going to be set up, and why has it not been set up already?

The House will know that a great deal of action has been taken in relation to illegal meat imports. On risk analysis, it is important to stress that there are a range of risks associated with importing disease and disease control, and we must address them all. Illegal imports is one of them and we take it seriously, which is why more finance has been provided, Customs and Excise has been given a stronger role, we have improved the range of publicity and information for people entering this country, and we have obtained agreement from the EU to end the derogations that allowed the importation of person al meat products.