Personal imports of meat and milk from countries outside the European Union will be banned from 1 January, the Government announced yesterday, as part of strengthened precautions intended to prevent animal diseases entering Britain.
It will be an offence to bring in meat, milk and their products without valid veterinary certification from approved establishments in approved countries. In practical terms, they will be outlawed.
The move, made possible by a new Brussels regulation, is part of a strategy of steadily tightening controls on imports in response to last year's catastrophic outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, and the outbreak of classical swine fever shortly before that.
A video, "Hazardous Materials", has been produced by the Government for airlines and airports, to highlight the risk for tourists visiting Britain and Britons returning from overseas.
"We want to reduce the risk of plant and animal diseases entering this country," a government source said. "We don't know for a fact that foot- and-mouth disease and classical swine fever were caused by illegal imports, but we are suspicious, and there is a good chance that they were. People are travelling a lot more and the travelling public need to be informed of the risks and of the consequences."
The import restrictions are one of a number of measures being taken to tighten border controls.
Dogs trained to detect meat in suitcases were introduced at Heathrow airport last month and have already made several finds, including one of "bushmeat" from African wild animals brought in illegally. A court case is pending.
The Government is considering the use at ports and airports of "amnesty bins" into which passengers can drop meat and milk products if they realise they are breaking the law.
It is also hoping to try out a scanner that can detect organic products illegally stored in large goods shipments, such as containers, at an undisclosed point of entry into Britain.
Staffing is being stepped up among the inspection services of the port health authorities, who have responsibility to enforce the regulations.