Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-101)

MR BEN GILL, MR MICHAEL SEALS AND MS ELIZABETH HOGBEN

TUESDAY 18 JUNE 2002

  80. So if we had this seminar and there was so much interest, and one gets the impression that people were quite keen to share the problem with you and clearly all the agencies involved had identified a real problem here, why do you think nothing had been done about it up to that point?
  (Mr Gill) I cannot really speculate other than suspect that it is a matter of inertia within the Civil Service who was going to instigate several government departments talking together and we broke the log jam on that aspect. It was something that I did not expect to happen: the fact that they slowly revealed their interests and found there was common purpose in talking together. I heard the end of the previous evidence where they were suggesting the need for a central organisation, which was one of the clear things that came out of that meeting. The ridiculous situation we were in at that time has now moved on by the legislation of 22 May, that with regard to meat Customs & Excise have very little interest; the port health authorities have the interest but have no ability to open those products, and this is a glaring example of the failure of the system to be up to date. We did find also there was an indication from Customs side that they felt that they were on top of it and there was a slight suggestion that they were failing in their job, which we found peculiar at the time. We had representatives of the airlines that were in attendance at that meeting and we did offer from our own funds, which I might say are extremely tight, to fund the production of a video that could be used on airlines for incoming visitors to the UK to stress the importance to our countryside and livestock industry and extol visitors to be aware of the stringent need for biosecurity on food products. I emphasise that it is all food products coming into the UK because, although meat has been very much in the focus, I am acutely aware there has been a rash of diseases coming into the country in the plant kingdom as well—notably brown rot in potatoes, rhizomania in sugar beet, and a number of other insect pests in horticultural crops that are actively enagaging scientists at the moment—and we need to be aware of the totality of it.

Diana Organ

  81. You have had a campaign for quite a long time on this and certainly your memorandum to us is a pretty full part of that. What do you say, though, to the criticism that you have been running this campaign because it has taken the focus off the fact that there has been considerable evidence that farmers had some responsibility in spreading foot and mouth disease, so you are deflecting the argument away by talking about the bush meat coming out of Heathrow?
  (Mr Gill) We have not drawn back from the fact that, with the benefit of hindsight, we need to re-examine the whole basis of farm biosecurity, but that does not stop and start at the farm; it starts at our borders with the outside world and that border is in some cases not just the English border but the European Union border. We sought to point out the fact to counterbalance the suggestions that problems solely related to farm gate biosecurity with the actual fact the primary point is at the border point into the single market of the European Union. I think that was just, proper and responsible. We took the responsible line not only of raising the issue but, as we have already detailed, of bringing together all interested parties to try and achieve some movement on that point. The aspect of farm biosecurity as well is not perhaps as straightforward as I have said to the full Committee before. When I was responsible for a pig unit in Holderness in the mid-to-late 70s, in each of the units we had in the business we had wheelbaths at each of the entrances. That was common practice at that time. Over the ensuing decades this has fallen into disrepair and disrepute because there was a tension with the environment authorities that the disinfectant from those wheelbaths could easily get into watercourses and cause pollutions, and this is one of the tensions in the everyday world with which we have to live. It is not black and white; it is finding a balance between the two. Without outbreaks of disease of an exotic nature, this had moved the wrong way. I can tell the sub-committee that I am not unique now in having, at considerable expense, gone to the trouble of installing a wheelbath at the entrance of my farm as a livestock keeper to ensure that all vehicles coming onto the farm are properly disinfected at the wheel level and, if necessary, we will reinstate the land spray that we did last year at the peak time of vehicle access which starts in late July.

Mr Martlew

  82. On that, is the reality, and I will accept it, that foot and mouth was imported illegally into the country but we have had prosecution from drug law, and if we had not bothered to eat the swill we would never have had this, so the real fault on that goes to that individual farmer, and a lot of what has been said—and to be honest your answer, Mr Gill—has been a bit vague. Let us get down to it. If he had done what he should done with the swill, we would not have had the foot and mouth outbreak. Is that correct?
  (Mr Gill) I have to be really careful here because this case, although it has been in the courts, is still subject to a period of appeal, and it would be imprudent and incorrect for me to comment on an individual case. I can say, however, that if swill is not correctly treated, then that is a factor that will not kill off the foot and mouth virus—that is correct—and nobody can argue with that. The consequence has been that it is no longer legal to use swill feeding for livestock at this time, although I have to say my concern is that the zealous approach to this ban in the UK does not seem to be fully followed in other Member States within the European Union.

Diana Organ

  83. Can I move on to that? You gave us some points about different methodologies that other EU countries use in, if you like, their biosecurity of their borders. How would you say that the UK's performance measures against other European countries? Are we better? Worse? Do they do it better? Is it that we are somehow very lax so we had foot and mouth disease and other countries are far more rigorous? Can you give me an assessment of how you see that?
  (Mr Seals) It has been a little difficult from our point of view to ascertain the particular points you make, as you can imagine. We have not been over to Europe to look at the different airports and ports, so the information we have gleaned is from the Commission and from colleagues in different European Union member states. From what we can assess each individual country has its own different system within the EU itself. When you look at non meat controls—and remember we have to categorise imported controls into two categories, meat or non meat, and meat controls are uniform or should be throughout Europe.

  84. Because farmers will often say to me, "Oh, it is all different in the EU. They do not do it like we do it. We keep to the rules". Do you have any evidence that other Member States, when it is meant to be uniform regulation for meat import, are not as good as us?
  (Mr Seals) Not within the meat imports. The meat import side is inspected by the European Commission. In our submission to you we referred to a recent examination of UK border controls by the European Commission, and on page 25 there was a table which indicated their view of nine major points of entry into the UK which was hardly complimentary. That information about the UK is also available on Commission websites about different countries and different border inspection posts throughout Europe. That is on meat controls. You must focus also on non meat controls which is where we believe, and people like the port health authority have said to us, illegal meat is allowed to enter. There you do not have a harmonised system; you have a myriad of different systems and different countries and different groups, etc.

  85. Would you like to choose a country and a system that you think is a good system? Would that be the UK or we failing in that?
  (Mr Seals) If you want to look for a good system you want to go to a country where there has been no disease for a few years—look at Australia and New Zealand.

  86. I do not think you can necessarily draw the conclusion that just because they have not had an outbreak of, say, foot and mouth, therefore, their system is working because there are other issues. As Mr Martlew said, the reason why foot and mouth started in this country may not be to do with the good system of biosecurity at our borders but because the farmer chose to break the law?
  (Mr Seals) Nonetheless the disease came in in the first instance through those border controls.
  (Mr Gill) That is the critical point—how did the disease get into the country? We are not denying that there seems to have been, and from the legal perspective I have to choose my words guardedly, some breakdown when it was in, but we must not forget the first line of protection. Remember, also, that foot and mouth follows hot on the heels of the outbreak of classical swine fever in East Anglia. Both of these are of an Asian type; both are suspected to have come from a far eastern source. Once is an accident, twice is carelessness, and the need to police imports is very critical. We will never know how the disease got in in both of those cases, but I think it points very clearly to some form of illegal importation of one form or another, although there may be some possible avenues with regard to potential to import sheep's stomachs from China that I have not been able to verify or otherwise that was available at the time, and what checks were in place to check on that product and whether or not sheep's stomachs can carry the virus in them and what treatments have taken place. There have been allegations in that field but I have not been able to validate them or deny them.

  87. We are looking obviously at the system we have here in the UK and how we can improve it. How much do you think the regulations that were introduced on May 22 have gone to meet what you want to do, and is therefore our performance better now than it was twelve months ago?
  (Mr Gill) They are one step, but as Mr Seals has made reference to, they refer only to the products designated or coming in on the domestic side, not the commercial side, and particularly they do not cover the products of a non animal nature in that commercial sector. As I mentioned earlier, one of the needs was to increase the capability of people to search properties or baggage, and the anecdotal evidence you have seen in the media of spot checks being done on certain selected planes coming into Heathrow have been quite alarming. As much as 300 kilograms has been seized off one flight from western Africa alone and, to put that in context, that is the same as an entire carcass of a mature steer. That is a sizeable amount of meat to come in in suitcases. Picking up on a point made at the end of the evidence from the environmental health officers, something that has been not properly understood by many commentators is that there is not just the animal health risk but the human health risk. We hear of a variety of diseases particularly in some of the African countries, and the potential trouble and panic that could accrue from an outbreak of one of these very dreadful exotic diseases in the human population as a result of illegal imports I think would be a very difficult job to weigh the cost of that against what the cost is of properly implementing the staffing and the equipment of our ports. Again, referring to the report that the European Union did, Heathrow is glaring in that, in each of the ten criteria with which they judged it, not one had a positive compliance factor. Of those ten, six were major non compliances and four minor non compliances. I find that a quite alarming state of affairs. Non compliance in the number of staff, in the training of staff, in the facilities in the equipment—that is the state of play in this country and that is where I am particularly concerned.

  88. Going back to the original case of foot and mouth, because that was not bush meat, that was the Australian smokey that we were talking about earlier—we do not quite know what it was—the evidence that you have just talked about there is generally people for personal imports bringing in bush meat in their luggage through Heathrow. But how much meat do you consider is being imported illegally not of that bush meat type which is done for other reasons?
  (Mr Gill) Firstly it is impossible, as you commented or your colleagues did in the previous session, to identify something that is not being policed at all. It is a very bold office of the law of whichever department who challenges a 40 container which is designated as bananas or pineapples or whatever and to require to remove 39 of that product from the container and a considerable weight on the off chance that the front 12 are full of some illegal carcass meat. I think that is something that can be overcome because we were advised when we had our session in January that there is in America X-ray technology that is capable of picking up these illegal consignments. Also, they advised us that for a matter of coppers per suitcase it would be possible to install at Heathrow, or any airport, this equipment on the line as it comes up the belt on to the luggage dispersal area, the luggage collection lounge, to check on those points. These are relatively inexpensive. I do understand that, before any capital investment can take place, there should be full evaluation to make sure that they do stand up, but I do urge you to suggest that the government should be carrying out evaluations of these checks and that the British Airports' Authority should look upon this as a very minimal contribution that they could make to protect the population from future disease outbreaks.

Mr Todd

  89. If we look at the track record prior to, what, 18 or 19 February—
  (Mr Gill) 20 February.

  90. —Then most people would have said, "Goodness, this is not something that worries us: we have gone 30 something years without a major outbreak of foot and mouth and we know where the intervening one came from, it drifted across the Channel" and so on, and it illustrates possibly the relatively low risk in numerical terms of controls not working properly. However, it is possible to argue, firstly, that the volume of trade is increasing: that you can discount a good chunk of that 30 something years, and that also the type of trade is changing sharply. Would you agree firstly with that analysis?
  (Mr Gill) In regard to your first point it would not be correct to say that nobody had thought about the problem prior to February 20, 2001 because at that very point we had the classical swine fever outbreak in East Anglia in the summer of 2000 and that had thrown very much to the forefront the concerns about the illegal importation of meat, and MAFF at that stage had made it very clear that it was most likely to be illegal imports of meat that were the problem in that case. With the second point you raise a very good question. In recent times we have seen significant pressures for more and more trade around the world, globalisation comes along and encourages that, freeing up of trade under the last GATT round and pressures to do so in the future, and that goes on apace. There is some confusion that free trade is seen to be at odds with regulated trade, and I do not see that. I think the more free trade you have, the more you have to regulate it to make sure you are not open to abuse in that area.

  91. The point I am making is that the apparent evidence in terms of small risk in numerical terms might suggest that we are focusing on the wrong target but the anecdotal evidence we see of the character of the trade that we now have and its volume indicates that that risk is probably increasing quite sharply at the moment and that actions are appropriate. Secondly, others have referred to the biosecurity agenda in farming which, of course, would place significant obligations—you have mentioned some of them on farms. Would it not be fair to see this as partly stakeholder bargaining in which your agenda of increased border security is taken as part of a holistic approach to this problem, and it is easier to engage the co-operation of farmers on serious measures to control risks on the farm if they are clear that measures are being taken at ports to reduce risk there. We recognise that reducing risk at ports is all we can do; we realise we can never eliminate risk.
  (Mr Gill) I think one of the lessons we have learned from all this is there needs to be a far more sophisticated early warning system of the risk of disease. To put it crudely, the European Union's, and Britain as part of it, risk assessment on disease potential was, "If you've got disease in Turkey then we had better started thinking about it, and if you get it into Greece then we do a bit more", and that has been proved to be sadly wrong because of the bigger trade that goes on. One of the points I made to the European Parliament's temporary committee of inquiry was that one of the issues they should pick up was that it was the responsibility of the EU to create an early warning system. I should also point out that when I visited Australia in May of last year they admitted that they only significantly upgraded their national biosecurity which was, before that, superior to ours after Britain got foot and mouth, even though they had it closer to them in the Pacific Rim, which again is the basis of early warning centres. On the second point, the holistic approach, I think you are perfectly correct. One of the problems that has developed in the last twelve months is an increasing and considerable lack of trust in the consistent approach of government to biosecurity generally and their approach to the re-establishment of agricultural shows is a case in point where, to be quite honest, the way the proposals are being implemented and the basis of the proposals is shambolic. I have made the point that if they continue to go about it in that way then they are devaluing the approach and the whole issue of biosecurity to farmers who are being asked to commit scarce resource. In my case if I tot up all the bills it is probably costing me in excess of 1000 just to install a proper bath and every other aspect, plus running costs with it, at a time when farming profits are abysmally low, and they are saying, "What is the point if the Government is not prepared to do its part to try and keep it out?"

Mr Curry

  92. The Comprehensive Spending Review is due out next month. NFU was on its knees this morning saying that the government should find 500 million because of farmers leaving the land and the problem of prices in the industry. My namesake says he wants 500 million for environmental schemes—I think these are different 500 millions. I learnt yesterday that the science budget of DEFRA has been cut by 5 per cent and a lot of that budget goes into combatting animal, food and plant diseases. Where are your priorities? If you met the Secretary of State tomorrow and she said "I can get this little amount out of the Treasury", where do you want it to be spent? It would not be effective if we just trickled it out into whole areas. Would you employ more environmental health officers, or more monitors in ports against money to support farming through agri-compensation schemes, or have a science budget looking towards the long term, or would you move farming on to a different basis which everyone keeps talking about?
  (Mr Gill) One of the problems we identified when we had our meeting was that the cost of port health authorities is borne not by DEFRA but by the local councils on which the ports are sited. This is, therefore, disproportionate on some councils. Obviously not every council, I do not think South Derbyshire, for example, has a port in it—
  (Mr Seals) Nor an airport!
  (Mr Gill) No, so this is disproportionate. Some councils bear a heavy burden and it places strains on them because they have to find it from the rate support grant and it is not a fair distribution. It is a point we made to government subsequent to that meeting we held in January, and I perhaps should have made it clear that, after the first meeting in January, we agreed to a second meeting in March and about three weeks before that was due to be held the government approached me to see if they could take over the running of the meeting which they did, and we have said to the participants that if things have not sufficiently moved on we will call the meeting back again ourselves. In terms of prioritisation, you mentioned research, and you will remember that Lord Whitty made a statement in the other Place early this year that he was cutting horticultural research to fund animal disease research. I find that absolutely dreadful because all we hear often is that they are going to put more into animal disease research and imply it is new money, and the reality is that the animal disease budget has been cut year after year after year. I can remember visiting the Institute of Animal Health at Compton in probably 1993 and being alarmed then at the cuts in expenditure which have been exacerbated much since then which are exposing our country to a whole plethora of exotic diseases for which there is no cure. I believe the cost of all this should be shared more around the world. Foot and mouth is not exclusive to Britain, or Europe. It is a world problem, and when I talked with the authorities around the world and had meetings last year, there was a common recognition of that. I understand that there is the possibility that the UN agency, the FAO, is looking at the role of co-ordinating research into foot and mouth, into a high grade vaccine and into the necessary diagnostic tests to go alongside it, and programmes to control foot and mouth around the world.

Chairman

  93. So you would put the extra money into research?
  (Mr Gill) I am saying there needs to be proper funding of research, that is part of it, but I think the public would be rather alarmed that the government is thinking, on the basic point of human food safety with the risks from quite dreadful diseases coming in, that there is any question of a trade-off in funding with something else.

Mr Curry

  94. When you are meeting with your local branch of the NFU in Easingwold or wherever, and there is a choice between money which might end up in farmers' pockets and money spent centrally in some way which might give longer material protection, ie through science spending or through providing greatly enhanced protection against import of illegal products, with the present state of the industry what do you think the feeling would be?
  (Mr Gill) Can I thank the hon Member for such an interesting question which is based on a theory which is impossible to weight unless I know the exact details of the alternative. It is basically a theoretical question. I have to look both to the short, medium and long term at all times. Of course, at the moment, with restraints on the industry, my members will look to the fact that they are wondering if they can survive till next year, and that is at very real cost but they would be exposed, if we had another outbreak of a major disease in this country, to a catastrophic cost and I would again reinforce the point that I do not believe that there should be any compromise on the allocation of appropriate funds to keep disease out of this country, both human and animal. Surely that is a cost that must be borne as a matter of priority for the benefit of the entire population?
  (Mr Seals) Just adding to that, the question implied who pays at the ports and the airports for the cost of the enforcement, and again we must split up meat and non meat because, as far as meat products are concerned, the cost of inspection is borne by the importer. From our point of view, in looking at this, we have asked the question why should not costs of non meat product inspection also be borne by the importer? Why should that burden fall, as Mr Gill says, on the particular local authority in that area? If an importer wishes to bring product in, there is an inspection and costs should be borne with it.

Mr Drew

  95. Perhaps I could come in as the proud possessor of a port, even though it is quite small! I think we have covered most of the issues about who is going to pay for illegal imports but can I pose a counter factual argument? In a sense it is always difficult to deal with illegal imports because by the very nature of things you know that this is illegal and that the people who are doing it are not going to be necessarily doing it for anything other than the obvious reason they are going to make money out of that. Why can we not do more on the export side? Why do we not put the onus much more on countries not being encouraged to export? In a simple sense, let us become more self-sufficient. I know this is music to some people's ears, but why not say, "We recognise that this trade is going to cause all manner of problems so let's go back to a degree of self-sufficiency and say `We are not exporting as much of this product because they are not going to export as much of that product to us'", and therefore try and deal with the fact that the trade is in a sense a problem rather than the bit of the trade that is illegal.
  (Mr Seals) I suppose when you think about it what you are asking is for countries that are economically backward in some instances to cut off the trade that is providing some of their people with a small amount of sustenance, and here I am thinking of the bush meat type angle. Beyond that, which is probably the smaller end of the problem, you have commercial organisations in exporting countries seeking to circumvent the laws within those countries as well as ours in exporting products in containers that have something else as well, or which are designated other than meat. There are set rules, and Beth can fill you in on particular rules in place, in terms of veterinary inspections of countries exporting into the EU and if those rules have been circumvented in those countries there is little we can do about it here, I would have thought.

  96. The corollary is that, if you know that from certain parts of the world there is illegal trade which is outwardly known, you say to those countries, "If you do not do something about those illegal imports we will shut down the legal frame". That completely mucks up all those world trade rules and so on but we cannot go on the way we are going. I am playing devil's advocate here but in terms of foot and mouth the arguments continuing to be put to me by people and by the NFU is, "Shut down the trade from those countries because it is not good enough to shut down the trade from the regions with foot and mouth; you should shut it down from the whole country". Why not take that argument further and say, "You do not do illegal trade at all and you shut down the legal trade"?
  (Mr Gill) We did do that last March when we were concerned about the veracity of imports coming from South America, and the Commission took action to stop imports from Argentina until such time as they could satisfy themselves about the status of the meat coming from there, but I think illegal importing is very much more subversive than the beef imports coming in. Secondly, even when you have shut down the commercial imports, you still have not shut down the domestic imports coming in illegally because they are outwith those commercial controls, and that is a sizeable factor, and attempts by the Foreign Office simply when they have required Embassies and High Commissions around the world to issue warnings to people who are given visas with determined prior involvement, as has been outlined before in evidence we have, are not sufficient to be a disincentive to these people who are so determined for the significant sums of money involved. I think a general point is that you have heard today a suggestion that there needs to be co-ordination of the UK elements involved in policing the situation, but I think general world intelligence needs co-ordination as well, and you could argue very strongly, which I would agree with, that the next move must be government-to-government dialogue where you identify countries where there could be illegal domestic imports coming in, and country-to-country dialogue, not just at government level but at enforcement agency level, to try and stop it happening. If you put in place spot checks and if the X-ray technology works—which we are told it does in the United States—coupled with the other basic technology such as the use of sniffer dogs and correct resource, remembering that Heathrow has major non compliance on the number of staff available, then you can begin to make inroads and drive it down. Finally, I do have some concern when DEFRA say they are doing risk assessments on meat imports of all the types. If you do a risk assessment on meat imports by itself and you get a risk and a cost factor out, that does not tell you the full picture because, if you are policing the ports in a different order of magnitude, you also have the potential to benefit from throwing up other contraband—notably drugs and even illegal arms imports that from time to time have been known to come to certain parts of the United Kingdom. So there is a more general benefit that could come out of this as well if you have an increase and a proper resource allocation of staffing and training to our authorities.

Mr Simpson

  97. Can I begin by following up what Mr Gill said about the muddled thinking and instructions issued by DEFRA towards county shows? The other week I saw Mr Gill at the Suffolk County Show and two days before I had been at the Surrey County Show and there was completely different advice given by local DEFRA officials at the two shows concerning sheep. That is just one point I wanted to flag up and the Permanent Secretary has a number of questions from us tomorrow. You flagged up in your very full evidence the fact that there were obviously lessons to be learnt from other countries, and we have visited New Zealand. Do you think that, apart from all the practical issues that you outlined, one of the most crucial ones is the fact that, when you go into New Zealand or, for that matter, the USA, you are made aware when you arrive even on the flight of the importance of biosecurity, and do you think that, as a consequence of the Government's action plan, that kind of public awareness is going to be carried through?
  (Mr Gill) On the first point I could add to the point by saying that we did independently commission a risk assessment by an independent veterinary expert on the biosecurity issues at shows. We are also doing a more full risk assessment on the need for movement controls and what they should be but that is not complete. I handed that risk assessment to the Parliamentary Under Secretaries some two or three weeks ago, and the first and key question that the veterinary expert asked is what is the purpose of these controls at shows. Is it because the government suspects there is still foot and foot and mouth resident in the country, or is it just a general disease control measure? If it is the former, these controls are woefully inadequate. If it is the latter, they are quite irrelevant and over the top. Since that work was commissioned, the Government have made a correct statement on the back of the fact that no foot and mouth has appeared during this year's lambing season that they believe that foot and mouth is not prevalent in the country. I think the report of our veterinary expert underlines the ridiculousness of the regulations at shows and the extreme variability that occurs not only between shows but within different days at shows when different officers are in charge of the policing, which further compounds the ridicule that is then passed back to individual farmers around the country who say, "If they do not know, why the hell should I do anything?" I am sorry to put it bluntly, and I beg your pardon, Chairman. On the in-flight information I agree totally with Mr Simpson that the key element is awareness on the flight with in-flight videos. As I said, we offered to fund one with Virgin Airlines and I am told that subsequently, having received correspondence from Government, they were frightened off because they did not know what they were letting themselves in for, but I am still hopeful we can reinstate that situation, but it is also filling out the forms and the cards you have to fill out to say whether you have been a farmer or not, or on farm or have you any products with you, and I have to say the port authorities in each of the countries I have been to have been entirely courteous and understanding about it. Can I also say, Chairman, that when I had the occasion to fly from Leeds airport to Belfast airport last September, when I arrived at Belfast I had to declare if I had been on a farm and I had to be disinfected by a young chap with a stirrup pump! This shows that it can work in certain parts of the United Kingdom but I am told that the airline I flew on, which was British European, was the only airline giving warnings on the plane—the other airline flying into Belfast does not—and it is this haphazard approach which is quite farcical.

  98. Can I secondly ask you this: in your evidence you very strongly argued, as indeed our previous witnesses argued, that, for every reason that you can think of, including health biosecurity and also clarity, effectively we should try to ban Europe-wide the personal importation of meat. Have you any evidence that the government is going to be proactive in this within Europe?
  (Mr Gill) What we have said is we do not believe personal allowances can be justified any longer in view of the misunderstanding that there is. We had a number of people who went to Gatwick airport who talked to people while they were queuing to check in and the knowledge about what personal allowances were was virtually non existent. They were horrified when they had the problems pointed out and they were saying, "We need an information campaign because we may have brought something in inadvertently", and that is a real issue.
  (Mr Seals) If I can add to that, Chairman, it is not just the arrival at a port of entry, an airport or whatever; you also have to look at internet trading and mail order—the ability to surf the net. I tried it. I went into a New Delhi food stall and was on the point of ordering meat to be delivered by post into the UK to me and I was one credit card "fill it in and submit" away from achieving that, so we have a new dimension now—internet mail order, international mail order. If it does not work with drugs, if I cannot go into a Colombian drug cartel with my credit card and buy a kilo of heroin then it should not work with food either. There have to be controls somewhere down the line but it is another area that needs to be examined and it is a future area.

Chairman

  99. Finally, in your submission to us you recognise there are a number of players—Customs, port health authorities—and you advocate a lead agency. Who should be the lead agency?
  (Mr Gill) We are not really too concerned as to who the lead agency is as long as there is a designated lead agency. A sort of vacuum where it is all passed around and falls between the cracks is not acceptable. It needs a competent body; it needs to be simplified; we need to have the implementation covered by a lead agency, and the intelligence. Those are critical factors—not just for meat but for the whole food and food imports—and that requires to be done as well on the European Union basis because, as I said before, we would need to have a change in the European Union regulation for that. Last week I was in Brussels talking to Commissioner Byrne's cabinet on this point, and the legislation is still delayed. It has been promised for some time; we are told it may come out in a month or so's time whereby the sole charging policy could be implemented for plant material and all food products and imports coming into the European Union, and it should not then be the issue in terms of time delay because that will allow the resource to be put to it.

  100. Thank you for coming. You told us you had a summit in January that pulled together the players and that you had a full and follow-up summit in March that the government took over and ran, and you reserved the right to re-convene that meeting if necessary. Do you think it is going to be necessary to re-convene the meeting?
  (Mr Gill) I wait to see what movement we have on the risk assessments that are carried out but I cannot wait indefinitely, and it will not be long before we have to make a decision whether or not we have to recall that meeting.

  101. So you are saying progress has been made or, as somebody down the road says, there is still a lot to do on it?
  (Mr Gill) Exactly, Chairman.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.


 


 
previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 23 July 2002