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Customs ignores journalist's plea: Editor goes on warpath

Customs measures to keep the UK free from another foot and mouth epidemic from imported foreign meat have been slammed by the Western Morning News.

Editor Barrie Williams says that Farming Minister Lord Whitty has fudged an explanation of the rules – and he fears the attitude of Customs staff could be leaving the country at risk.

Farmers in the circulation area of the Western Morning News, which covers south-west Britain, were particularly badly hit by the epidemic, during which thousands of cattle and sheep were culled.

The row between the paper and the Government began after reporter Aura Sabadus declared to customs staff at Heathrow airport the foodstuffs she was bringing back from outside the EU – and waited to be asked to hand them over.

Barrie said; “She was flabbergasted to be as good as told they weren’t interested in her or her meat product.

“So she understandably raised the issue with Defra, and used the experience as part of her report in this newspaper.”

He said it was clear that security measures to stop food importers in their tracks were simply inadequate.

When Aura told customs officials she had some goods they needed to see, they declined to take her name or address or even inspect the products.

And Lord Whitty’s letter to a Westcountry MP on the topic did little to reassure, said Barrie.

The minister wrote: “We currently have 11 posters listing the personal import rules and penalties for breaking them in the arrival halls of North and South terminals at Gatwick.”

But the editor countered: “That’s next to useless if Customs officers aren’t at least inspecting the meat products which travellers are admitting to carrying. And there are no posters at all at Heathrow.

“There is every likelihood that the foot and mouth outbreak which did such deep and long-term damage to many rural areas last year came into this country via imported meat.

“But even if it didn’t, the fact that imports pose such a potential risk mean every effort should be made to crack down on them.”

He called on Customs officers to enforce the rules that already exist – and to ensure they could enforce a Europe-wide ban on personal imports of milk, meat and by-products, when it is brought in next year.

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