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Dover District Council urges Government to reverse illegal meat check funding cuts

30th Apr 2024 / By Alistair Driver

Dover District Council has, again, urged the Government to reverse its decision to slash funding for checks on illegal meat imports at the Port of Dover, as another 3.4 tonnes of illegal product was seized on Friday and Saturday. 

Dover pork seizuresThe council has also called on the Government to rethink the decision to move the Border Control Post (BCP) for commercial food checks under the Border Target Operating Model from the port 22 miles inland to Sevington.

It warned that a failure to act on both issues could expose the UK livestock industry to devastating disease like African swine fever (ASF) and accused the Government of taking ‘serious and needless risks’ with its approach to new border controls.

The 3.4t of illegal meat seized at Dover last Friday and Saturday, the largest haul this year so far, just days before the implementation of the latest phase of the BTOM, takes the total seized since new ASF control measure came into force in September 2022 to 85t. 

The latest seizures came from a number of vehicle inspections completed by Dover Port Health Authority (DPHA) at the port. They included 54 unmarked sheep carcasses from two vehicles from Romania, which had travelled for several days in unhygienic conditions and unsuitable packaging, including incomplete domestic clingfilm, black sacks and duct tape.

The meat had been transported without temperature controls, cross contaminating other food including pig parts, chicken, beef, and cheese items with dripping blood.

To stop the potential spread of disease, the illegal meat was removed from the food supply chain by DPHA at the point of entry at Dover, the council said.

Funding cuts

One of the consequences of the BTOM finally getting up and running is that funding for these illegal meat checks at the port under ASF rules – which have resulted more than 85 tonnes of meat being seized so far, much of it pork from ASF-infected regions – is being slashed.

Defra told DPHA in December that it was cutting its budget from £3.2m to £1.2m in 2024/25, starting in April, and then to nothing in 2025/26. DPHA says it needs £4m to perform the work, which has also been extended to Coquelles, in France.

Defra has said DDC could recover some of these funds by charging illegal meat importers, although it has now acknowledged that this will be ‘challenging’. DDC said it does have the provisions to charge importers in this way.

DDC is also concerned that the decision to move commercial food checks from April 30 under the BTOM to Sevington will create ‘an even bigger risk to British biosecurity’.

The council highlighted the importance of its work in seizing illegal imports under ASF prevention measures, as the virus continues to spread in various European countries.

Lucy Manzano, DPHA’s Head of Port Health and Public Protection, said: “These seizures demonstrate just how vital the work is of the Dover Port Health Authority when it comes to protecting British supply chains and biosecurity.

“Despite our limited resources, our inspection teams are fully committed to fighting off the threat of ASF and other lethal diseases that threaten livestock – seizing over 85 tonnes of illegal meat since the checks were brought in from September 2022.”

“At this crucial time, it is vital that Defra and the Government consider the serious risks to British biosecurity that the single-site at Sevington creates.

“In practice this means that commercial imports of animal products, including high-risk meat and meat products will be able to arrive at Dover from Rest-of-World countries, and leave the point-of-entry and Port Health Authority at Dover, to enter our food chain without checks.

“This is the only border where food that is required to be checked will be able to travel freely and uncontrolled, to self-present at a facility 22 miles away.

“This is an entirely needless risk, when the Government has built a Border Control Post (BCP) in Dover (Bastion) but have decided not to open it, despite it being complete and run to temperature.

“We are again calling for Defra to open the purpose built BCP at Dover, Bastion Point, and to provide adequate funding for ASF checks so UK farmers, supply chains and biosecurity are protected.”

Defra response 

Defra Minister Lord Douglas-Miller recently responded to the EFRA Committee on some of the points previously raised by DDC about cuts in funding for illegal meat import checks. 

He claimed that Border Force, not DPHA, was the lead agency for tackling illegal imports and said the £3.66m total funding DPHA received was only ever a ‘temporary financial support package for port health authorities’ in response to delays to the BTOM. He added that this covered wider costs incurred at the port than just those for the ASF work.

He said the £1.2 million of new funding was an ‘initial allocation aiming to cover costs associated with personal imports activity that cannot be covered by cost-recovery’.

He acknowledged for the first time, however, that there ‘may well be challenges (for DPHA) in achieving full cost recovery’, but added that he ‘did not agree that cost recovery will be entirely impossible’.

Virtually all of this contradicted the points made by Ms Manzano. 

NPA chief policy adviser Charlie Dewhirst said: "The situation is concerning because, as of the end of April, there is still no clear indication of how Defra intends to tackle the problem of illegal meat imports, which, of course, pose a huge threat to the UK pig industry."

BTOM introduction

The Government’s new system of import checks finally comes into force today, after five delays and more than three years after we formally left the EU.

Under the second stage of the BTOM, food, animal and plant products which present a ‘medium risk’ to biosecurity and health will now undergo identity and physical checks, which test for pests and diseases. These checks involve visual inspections and temperature readings of goods.

Additionally, ‘high risk’ goods will now be checked at the border, where before they were checked at their destination.

The Government said the checks will help identify public health issues such as salmonella, and build on existing safeguarding measures which identify diseases like ASF. 

However, while proper checks on meat products that could pose a risk of diseases like African swine or foot-and-mouth under the BTOM will be welcomed, huge questions over the extent to which the Government is actually able and prepared to implement the new model.

There also serious concerns over the costs associated with the new checks, and possible impact on food inflation, and disruption to traffic near border control posts, while some businesses say there is still a lack of clarity on how the checks will work.