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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 10:49 GMT
Illegal meat trade 'getting worse'
Chest freezer marked
Anti-meat smuggling laws are "a mess", it is claimed
A year after the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, an average of 100kg of illegal meat is being smuggled on each flight into the UK, the BBC has learned.

It is thought that the root of both the 2001 epidemic, and an outbreak of swine fever in 2000, was contaminated smuggled meat which ended up in pigswill.

We're not talking about the casual tourist... it involves organised crime

Ben Gill, NFU
Yet farmers and port authorities say little has since been done to clamp down on illegal meat imports.

Mike Young, head of Crawley Borough Council's environmental services, which governs Gatwick airport, said the situation was in fact getting worse.

"On average we're finding something like 100kg of illegal products per flight. I think it is cause for worry."

'Severe risk'

Professor Joe Bramley of the Royal Veterinary College said: "Some of the findings that I've seen coming through the airports are quite horrendous.

"The illegal importation comes from areas of the world that have a range of diseases, some of which we only have a small understanding. It's a very severe risk."

The local authorities have no power to open and search passenger baggage

Mike Young
Crawley Council

Mr Young told the BBC the current law fell between different agencies - so no one could tackle the problem effectively.

"The local authorities have no power to open and search passenger baggage.

"Conversely, customs officers do have the general power to open and search passenger baggage, but can't deal with the products of animal origin that they find."

He backed a call from the Association of Port Health Authorities for new powers of stop and search, and more money, to tackle the problem.

Improvement claim

National Farmers' Union president Ben Gill agreed the law was a "big mess".

He added that he had been "pretty irritated" by recent government claims that things had improved.

"All we've had so far is a new set of posters go up in Britain, and I'm told that if you apply for visas abroad, you're warned not to take meat in - as if that's going to stop the trade.

"We're not talking about the casual tourist coming back with a delicacy... it involves organised crime."

Customs & Excise handout photo of a smoked juvenile Tantalus monkey
Gatwick spot-checks are uncovering 100kg of meat per flight
Officials say much of the illegal meat is so-called "bush meat" - meat from wild animals, usually in tropical countries such as areas of West Africa.

Much is brought in for personal consumption, but there is also a lucrative illegal trade in the meat.

The BBC reported on Tuesday that only two checks for illegal meat have been made on passengers at Heathrow Airport since last May.

In the combined checks 319kg of meat was found. A coincidental spot-check at Gatwick found 100kg of smuggled meat.

It has since emerged that 14 similar spot-checks uncovered a total five tons of smuggled meat in the year 2000.

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