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Home > News > Defra plans to cut budget for Dover illegal meat seizures could be catastrophic for pig sector - NPA

Defra plans to cut budget for Dover illegal meat seizures could be catastrophic for pig sector - NPA

17th Jan 2024 / By Alistair Driver

NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson has warned that Defra plans to cut the budget for illegal meat seizures at the Port of Dover could be ‘catastrophic’ for the pig sector. 

Dover pigs headsThe NPA has joined the Dover Port Health Authority (DPHA) and Dover Council in urging the Department to reconsider a proposed 70% cut to the budget for this vital work that is carried specifically for the purpose of keeping African swine fever (ASF) out of the country. 

The team at DPHA, working with UK Border Force, seized 1.1 tonnes of illegally imported meat at Dover in just a few hours on Saturday, alone, highlighting the scale and importance of this work.

Since Defra introduced new rules in September 2022 making it illegal to bring pork and pork products over 2kg into GB, unless produced to the EU’s commercial standards, DPHA and Border Force have seized more than 57 tonnes of meat products, often bought in in very large quantities.

This has been described as just the ‘tip of the iceberg’, with significantly greater volumes getting through undetected, prompting calls from DPHA, the NPA and others for Defra to put more resource into the activity, given the potentially devastating impact of an ASF outbreak.

DPHA is also being asked to extend this work to Coquelles, where the Channel Tunnel starts in France, which it has identified as a key risk point for the illegal meat trade.

However, just before Christmas, Defra announced it would be cutting the funding provided to police the ASF measures by as much as 70%, according Lucy Manzano, head of port health & public protection at Dover District Council.

“So, they want us to do twice the work in two different locations, with Coquelles presenting far more significant challenges, with a reduced budget,” she said.

It is understood that the work was being funded out of a budget initially allocated to the much-delayed BTOM. But when it starts operating in from the end of this month, with full customs checks starting in late-April, budgets will be squeezed.

“We don’t have enough resources now to provide the number of people needed on the ground to cover a 24-hour period, so there are gaps and that’s why we have called for greater resources,” Ms Manzano said.

She explained how the scale of the illegal trade in pork and a whole range of other Products of Animal Origin (POAO) through Dover has shocked everyone since the work start in September 2022. “With very minimal resource, we have found significant amounts – we are talking mega numbers,” Ms Manzano said.

Dover coach contents“It is coming over in vans and even coaches with no passengers and a trailer full of POAO (as shown, left). It is often presented horrendously, with vehicles dripping with blood and leaving a trail behind them. We are doing it in lanes at Dover, with a huge cross contamination risk and very limited facilities for washing down.”

She warned that cutting funding by 70% would make it virtually impossible to continue this work in its current form, especially with the extra resource required for Coquelles. 

The council is also opposing a separate proposal to transfer official import checks 22 miles inland to near Ashford when the Government’s Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) comes into full effect at the end of April.

You can read more on this story HERE

NPA reaction

NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson said the decision to cut funding and would leave the UK pig industry exposed to a potentially devastating outbreak of ASF, which she said would be 'catastrophic'.

“DPHA, along with Border Force, have been doing fantastic and incredibly difficult work since the introduction of the ASF measures in September 2022, exposing the huge scale of the illegal activity taking place, often significant organised food fraud, and the reality that what is being seized is just the tip of the iceberg.

“This makes it absolutely imperative that, rather than slashing funding, more resources are made available for this absolutely critical work, especially as there is currently no detail on the personal imports checks will supposedly serve as a replacement.

“Mitigating the risk of incursion of all notifiable diseases starts with prevention. What government is proposing will essentially create an opening in our borders which didn’t previously exist.”