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NPA's Katie Jarvis tells news channel Dover ASF budget cuts should be reversed

7th Feb 2024 / By Alistair Driver

NPA senior policy advisor Katie Jarvis has urged the Government to put more resources into seizing illegal meat imports at the Port of Dover, rather than slashing the budget, in an article on the GB News website. 

Dover coach contentsIn the article, the news channel highlighted figures it has obtained showing Dover port health officials have conducted at least 584 individual seizures of illegal meat at the British port since September 2022. At least 546 of those seizures involved meat which came from areas affected by African Swine Fever, it says. 

However, there have been zero arrests linked to the imports of illegal meat, GB News stated.

Dover District Council estimates that 90% of illegal meat imports to Britain arrive via Dover, with seizures including pig carcasses and flesh kept in non-refrigerated lorries.

On Friday evening and Saturday morning, a total of 743.70kg of illegal meat was removed from 6 vehicles, bringing the total weight of seizures since September 2022 to 66.5 tonnes.

Illegal meat that is identified is removed and destroyed, a Dover District Council source told GB News, adding that the health authority has no powers to make arrests but criminal proceedings are an option available to both the Dover Port Health Authority and Border Force.

The seizures come as ASF continues to spread across Africa, Asia and Europe, meaning the illegally imported meat poses a huge threat to the UK pig industry. 

Katie warned that the seizures are just a fraction of what is entering the market: “This number of seizures clearly demonstrates an alarming situation which poses a threat to the health of the national pig herd.

“The DPHA and Border Force have done fantastic and difficult work in capturing illegal meat imports and exposing the extent of this illegal activity since the introduction of the ASF control measures in September 2022, but the volume of meat being confiscated is just a fraction of what is arriving at Dover, with significantly greater volumes entering the country undetected.”

"The NPA is concerned by the Government’s announcement that it will be cutting funding to these services by as much as 70 per cent. The NPA believes that rather than cutting the budget, more funding should be made available to enable DPHA and Border Force to step up their hugely important work.”

She told GB News that the NPA understands that the majority of meat entering the country illegally is intended for commercial use, which Jarvis said “poses a considerable food safety threat given the condition of the meat on its arrival in Great Britain.”

“The meat itself is very often in a very dirty and unhygienic state, transported across Europe in vehicles with no refrigeration capacity.”

Defra cuts

The NPA is backing Dover District Council calls for Defra to scrap its plans to cut funding for the illegal meat inspections. 

In a DDC report published ahead of a Cabinet meeting meeting, a DDC report confirmed that Defra is withdrawing 66%, £2m out of £3.2m, of Port Health Authority (PHA) funding from Dover in 2024/25 and the remaining 33% (£1.2m) in 2025/26.

“Despite vague Defra assurances, the failure to properly resource the port health function poses a critical and irresponsible bio-security threat to the UK pork industry and the UK food chain, primarily through exposure to ASF from illicit and uncontrolled insanitary pork imports which are coming into the country through the Port of Dover at 1–2 tonnes per day,” it says. “This matter has long been known to DEFRA and documented to them and reported in the press.”

The DDC report also revealed that Defra has tried to justify the cuts by arguing that the council could, instead, recover the costs of the work by charging illegal meat importers. But DDC says Defra has been unable to demonstrate how the service could be self-funding.

Lucy Manzano, head of the Dover Port Health Authority, told GB News: “What we are seeing at the Dover border is really concerning and highlights why these checks are so critical for UK biosecurity.

“While food crime is going up, Defra has proposed to cut our budget for African Swine Fever checks by nearly 70 per cent and move commercial food checks 22 miles inland to Sevington – away from the frontline.”

She added: “This move would allow illegal meat to move freely away from the point-of-entry without restriction and will needlessly weaken our border controls, undermine UK biosecurity and threaten public health.

“In the case of African Swine Fever, the UK Government is putting our entire farming industry at risk.”

In January, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee chairman Sir Robert Goodwill wrote to Defra minister Steve Barclay about the committee’s 'real and reasonable concerns' about Defra's plans, which also include moving new customs checks from Dover 22 miles inland from the end of April.

Defra comment

A Defra spokesperson said: “In 2022 we provided a temporary financial support package to local authorities and port health authorities. Part of this package enabled port health authorities to support Border Force with enforcing the temporary measures on pork products from the European Union designed to address the risks of African Swine Fever.

“We recognise the strategic importance of the port of Dover and are continuing to work with the port authority on future support options.”