The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has written to the Defra Secretary expressing serious concerns about the effectiveness of the government’s measures for protecting biosecurity as it introduces new import checks.
The Committee remains supportive of the implementation of the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM). However, today’s letter raises two particular issues: firstly, Defra’s planned funding cuts for spot checks for products of animal origin at the Port of Dover and secondly, the location of the new facility for physical checks at the Dover border crossing, at Sevington – 22 miles away from the point of entry at Dover.
Dover Port Health Authority and Border Force are currently confiscating large amounts of illegal meat, smuggled into Great Britain via the Port of Dover: since September 2022, when checks were introduced, 60 tonnes of illegal pork have been seized, and 5.5. tonnes of illegal meat were confiscated over the weekend before Christmas alone. Dover Port Health Authority said, “this is the tip of the iceberg and these controls need to be bolstered and not reduced”.
Meat which is being brought into GB illegally poses significant potential risks to domestic biosecurity, in light of the devastating impacts of African Swine Fever and Foot and Mouth disease.
The Committee understands that Defra funding for these spot checks at the Port of Dover will soon be reduced by around 70% and cites the Dover Port Health Authority’s comments that the cuts in funding “will have a catastrophic effect” on biosecurity. Dover Port Health Authority has publicly called upon Defra to abandon its plans to cut the budget for products of animal origin (POAO) spot checks.
In a letter the EFRA Chair has asked the Defra Secretary of State for confirmation of “the current amount of funding in place for spot checks of POAO at the Port of Dover and whether [they] have plans to change that funding.” The letter asks what assessment Defra has made of the potential impact of a reduction in funding on checks on the UK’s biosecurity.
The second major cause for concern to the Committee is the new border control post coming into operation at Sevington, 22 miles from the point of entry at Dover.
The letter raises the issue that the border control post at Sevington will require vehicles to travel 22 miles unsupervised across Kent, presenting potentially serious biosecurity risks, and also compromising compliance. The Committee understands that drivers will be under no obligation to go to Sevington, if asked to do so.
The Committee “have real and reasonable concerns about the geographic dislocation of the border control post from the point of entry” and ask the Secretary of State to confirm what “safeguards will be in place to ensure the required loads travel from the point of entry (Port of Dover) to the Sevington site (22 miles away), without either offloading goods on route or not presenting at Sevington at all.”
The Committee asks for the Department’s “rationale for persisting with the plans to open the Sevington inland border facility despite stakeholder concerns.”
Given that the plan is for Sevington to be used as the site for checks, today’s letter also asks Defra to confirm what its intentions are for the Bastion Point Inland Border Facility in Dover.