HC Deb 19 April 2002 vol 383 cc1242-3W
Mr. Alan Reid

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measures the Food Standards Agency is taking to detect infected meat which has been imported from abroad and(a) is unsafe for human consumption and (b) could pass the infection to a farm animal; and if he will make a statement. [48175]

Yvette Cooper

[holding answer 11 April 2002]: European Union (EU) food hygiene legislation on meat for human consumption requires that all meat sold on the single market must be fit for human consumption, and free from animal diseases. It must have passed the specified health checks under veterinary supervision, and have been awarded the appropriate health mark.

Meat produced within the EU may circulate freely on the single market, and is not subject to border controls. However, imports of meat from other EU states are subject to random checks by the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) at meat cutting plants, or by local authorities in meat plants under their supervision. Following problems over the presence of Specified Risk Material in contravention of BSE rules, the Food Standards Agency has instructed the MHS to inspect every single consignment of imported carcass beef.

All meat imports from third countries also have to satisfy the conditions set out in EU food hygiene and import legislation. The latter includes prior notification and importation through EU authorised Border Inspection Posts (BIPs). In the BIP, the meat is subject to a 100 per cent check of identity and documentation, and a random physical check. The controls cover both public and animal health aspects with responsibility resting respectively with the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Local authorities, including port health authorities, have day-to-day responsibility for enforcement of the import legislation in BIPs.

Agency officials are exploring proposals made in a report approved by the Board of the Food Standards Agency with a view to making a number of improvements to controls on imports at ports, and have already issued written guidance to port health authorities and local authorities to ensure there is continued vigilance and checks on imported products both at the point of import and at the retail level. In addition the Food Standards Agency is taking an active role in interdepartmental initiatives led by DEFRA aimed at co-ordinating action across Government concerned with illegal imports of meat.