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Disease Control

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 21 May 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what bio-security measures are in place at airports and ports to prevent the importation of animal diseases from abroad; and if he will make a statement. (206292)

Legally imported animals and animal products from non-European Union (EU) countries are checked on entry into the United Kingdom (UK) to ensure they meet EU veterinary import conditions. Animal Health (AH) is responsible for carrying out the checks where ports/airports do not handle food products including live animals. Local authorities' veterinarians carry out the checks at ports which handle food of animal origin such as meat, fish, eggs, milk and products containing them, and a mix of animal products.

There are three types of checks:

Documentary checks—checks on the certification accompanying the consignment;

Identity checks—checks to ensure that the consignment matches the information given in the document;

Physical checks—checks on the consignment itself, including checks on temperature, condition, and for microbiological and chemical contaminants.

Checks are carried out in approved facilities at ports and airports. These are known as Border Inspection Posts (BIPs). EU legislation lays down the requirements for BIPs and they are inspected periodically by the European Commission (EC) to ensure they meet the required standard. There is also a programme of liaison visits by AH to local authority operated BIPs to ensure compliance with the required standard.

For intra-community trade, random checks may be carried out at the point of destination to ensure that consignments meet the requirements. If there is a disease outbreak in another member state, the onus is on the exporting country to implement disease control measures to ensure that animals and products which may present a risk are not exported.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has been responsible for anti-smuggling controls at the Great Britain border on illegal imports of products of animal origin (POAO) from outside the EU since 11 April 2003. This includes checks on passengers' baggage, freight and post. These controls are being handled by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) since 1 April 2008. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland (DARDNI) retain responsibility in Northern Ireland. HMRC/UKBA is committed to taking effective, proportionate, risk based and intelligence led enforcement measures to prevent illegal imports. It takes account of the latest animal disease risk assessments put together by veterinary experts from DEFRA on the current global and regional outbreak situation and targets resources on those entry routes that pose the greatest threat of disease.

With the exception of certain technical specialists, all frontline detection staff are employed as multifunctional anti-smuggling staff with a responsibility to tackle a range of risks at the border, including dealing with POAO. Anti-smuggling staff are supported by the use of detector dogs and baggage X-ray scanning equipment.

Detector dogs specifically trained to detect POAO are flexibly deployed in customs channels and baggage reclaim areas in accordance with latest risk assessments. Dogs are particularly successful in identifying large numbers of passengers and their baggage in a short time. They also work from time to time in postal depots and other customs controlled areas including freight sheds, car halls and lorry lanes. UKBA's ongoing commitment is to maintain 11 fully trained POAO detector dogs but at any one time, the number operational can fluctuate as a result of such factors as sickness or retirements and the need to train new dogs.

X-ray equipment is located in all Customs Green channels at major ports and airports to scan suspicious baggage. Over-belt scanners are located behind selected baggage belts to scan all baggage from selected high risk flights.

In addition, there continues to be a joined-up approach across Government Departments on the overall communications strategy to help raise travellers' awareness of the rules on personal imports of POAO. A variety of public awareness raising mechanisms are deployed with DEFRA leading on inland audiences and UKBA at the border and abroad. This is part of the overall anti-smuggling strategy to complement UKBA's targeted checks at the border.