§ The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett)
The Government has today published a draft revised Action Plan on illegal imports for 2003–04.
A core element of the action plan reflects the transfer of responsibility for anti-smuggling controls to HM Customs and Excise, which will take effect from 11 April. The new arrangements will make a significant difference as Customs will bring to bear their resources, skills and experience in intelligence, prevention and detection of prohibited goods to help reduce the flow of illegal imports of meat.
The draft action plan takes account of experience gained in implementing the action plan in 2002–03, and of insights gained from the risk assessment for the import of illegal meat and meat products contaminated with foot and mouth disease virus into Great Britain and subsequent exposure of GB livestock, which we are also publishing today.
The report on the risk assessment makes clear that there were significant deficiencies in the data available and therefore there are large uncertainties associated with the results. We are therefore publishing the report as "Work in Progress" and inviting further expert comment or data that might help refine the risk assessment.
These developments reaffirm the Government's commitment to strengthened controls on illegal imports. We have shown that we are willing to play our part. But it remains the case that those who use the countryside also have a responsibility to help prevent the spread of pests and diseases.
Copies of the revised draft action plan and the risk assessment report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Defra Illegal Imports website (www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/illegali/).