Dover Port Health Authority warns of food smuggling risk

Dover, UK: The Port of Dover could become a target for criminals smuggling illegal and diseased meat into the country under new post-Brexit plans the port’s health authority has warned.

From April, under the new regulations, trucks will be checked but not at port, at Sevington, Ashford some miles away.

The Dover Port Health Authority is considering legal action against the government over its decision to end physical checks of imported meat at a post within the port. Lucy Manzano, the head of the authority, said that as a port with the only inland border control post in the country, Dover could become a hotspot for criminal gangs trying to bypass checks.

“These goods will now come through Dover without interception at the port, with the anticipation and hope that drivers will self-present at a facility 22 miles away,” she said.

“It would be reasonable to assume that people involved in criminal activity – and there’s lots of money to be made within food crime – would start redirecting their stuff through Dover, because the controls won’t be in place.”

The warning from the body, which is run by Dover district council, comes before the new post-Brexit border rules being brought in at the end of April, which will require most meat and dairy products to be physically checked at government border control posts (BCPs). Currently, the Dover Port Health Authority carries spot checks on certain food products at the port to stop biosecurity threats such as meat carrying African swine fever from entering the country. In 2022, it seized 66 tonnes of illegal meat products as a result of these checks.

All other border control posts are positioned within ports, but the government decided in November that physical checks of imports coming through Dover, the UK’s busiest port, will instead happen at Sevington post in Ashford, Kent. This came despite initially indicating that the Dover Port Health Authority would carry out some checks within the Port of Dover at its Bastion Point facility, which was opened in spring 2022.

Since then, the Dover Port Health Authority has been lobbying the government to reverse its decision but says that after “very poor communication in recent months”, it is now considering legal action. Manzano said it had engaged lawyers and was looking at the legality of having checks so far away from the border, and how this could weaken the country’s biosecurity.

The Port Health Authority’s concerns about biosecurity are shared by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, whose chair has written to minister Steve Barclay about the issue.

Manzano said most of the illegal meat it intercepted in 2022 came from the EU, and had travelled for days, often without being packaged or refrigerated properly, and in some cases came from regions with high risk of African swine fever, such as Romania.

She warned that without checks at the port to pick these up some illegal loads could bypass Sevington and enter the supply and this would increase the risk of disease spreading by “an order of magnitude”.