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Williams: Combating the illegal meat trade in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"I am delighted that I have been called to lead the short debate this afternoon.

The topic of Combating the Illegal Meat Trade is an issue which goes way beyond party politics. It is an issue which is important to everyone in the Chamber here this afternoon, all our families, our friends, the people of Wales and indeed the United Kingdom. One only has to remember the Foot and Mouth Outbreak in 2001.

To set the scene - the illegal trade in unfit meat poses a public health and animal risk to the United Kingdom. In order to start addressing the issues, it is imperative that we give a voice to the environmental health professionals, DEFRA and The Meat Hygiene Service who are battling on a daily basis over this trade. This will not just focus in on the large scale poultry fraud which has been uncovered over the last few years, but would allow us to delve into less publicised illegal practices which would include the alleged sale of unfit meat.

This debate must also look at other areas including, illegal imports and the continuing trade in smokies. Smokies are an issue which I will come back to and address later in my contribution.

This is the right time to raise the profile of meat fraud and its impact on public health, as the Government now appears to be taking note of the scale of the problem.

I am urging everyone here this afternoon, and the people of our fair Country, to make the authorities aware of geographical areas in need of investigation.

In 2003, many individuals and farming unions supported the UK Wide Campaign 'Stamp it Out' whose aim was to reduce the quantity of unfit meat in the UK food chain through enforcement, raising public awareness and, where necessary, changes in legislation.

I have spoken to many people whilst collating the information for my speech this afternoon. Research uncovered meat traders selling carcasses, I quote 'unfit for dogs'. I emphasise 'unfit for dogs'.

Allegations have also been made against independent meat consultants who have advised the meat traders how to offload potentially dangerous meat carcasses onto the open market. Ladies and Gentleman, these people must be brought to book and not sit in positions of Authority.

During my time as a farmer, I have heard many serious cases of abuse, but perhaps the most serious is one which involved sheep carcasses which were illegally slaughtered and sold by a London trader who was recently convicted of keeping meat in unhygienic conditions.

The carcases, known as 'smokies' are flamed using high power blowtorches. The profit from one vanload of smokies can be as much as £6000. And this is a transit van, Ladies and Gentleman, not a large van.

The trader in this case also supplied meat to butchers shops and restaurants. Around 40 of his carcasses were sold from the back of a van and they were found to be emaciated and infected with tapeworm and other diseases.

This truly is a distressing tale, but one which clearly needs to be highlighted and brought out into the open, and into the public domain.

Is it time Ladies and Gentleman, that the trade in smokies (and it is obvious that there is a trade) is addressed?

Smokies are often produced in extremely unhygienic conditions and could pose a health risk to the consumer. This must stop. And I mean stop now.

In my view, there is a call for this meat. Providing it goes through a registered abattoir, is checked by inspectors and the meat hygiene services and deemed fit for public consumption, then we should bring it in from the cold and make the product legally safe. We should put an immediate stop to the selling of this meat from the back of vans and from back allies. I strongly feel that our ethnic communities would welcome the move to legalise this trade.

I remain convinced that the illegal trade in smokies is being perpetuated by a very small number of people. These very people, in my view, are highly motivated by personal greed and they do not care that their activities could cause great harm to the reputation of the overwhelming majority of decent law abiding farmers.

This is a very important issue and one which must be taken very seriously.

On another issue, Ladies and Gentlemen, I fully support the respected Farmers Union of Wales who have publicly endorsed and thrown their weight behind the 'Stamp it Out' campaign. The union states that 'we need to work together to combat the problem of unfit meat entering into the food chain'.

The union goes on to say that the campaign endeavours to cover a wide range of initiatives, including illegal imports, bush meat, illegal slaughter and the alleged sale of unfit meat.

FUW Past President Mr Bob Parry is on record as saying that the union was deeply concerned by the damage that the trade in illegal meat was causing the farming industry. Ladies and gentlemen, as a practising farmer, I fully endorse this statement.

We must send out a strong message to the people of Wales saying that we are committed to assisting law enforcement authorities in their crack down on those responsible for the dirty meat trade. The vast majority of this illegal meat ends up on the dinner plates of members of our community.

Do you know colleagues that the illegal meat trade is estimated by experts to be worth in excess of £1 billion pounds a year ? Yes, one billion pounds a year. I am calling on the Government to provide additional resources to Customs and Exise and local authority Environmental Health Officers to help them stem the flood of illegal meat that enters Britain daily.

Most experts agree that the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic was triggered following a batch of infected meat which was illegally imported into this country. Members of the Farming Community and the general public do not want a repeat of the shocking scenes of 2001 which is why they believe that the Government must take immediate action and take the threat posed by illegal meat seriously.

The cost to the UK economy of the Foot and Mouth Outbreaks is estimated at being 8 billion pounds. Ladies and gentlemen, we will never know the real emotional cost to the British Public - remember the sight of the funeral fires. The real cost of this will never be known. What will be remembered is the overwhelming devastation to everyone involved.

I am not only concerned with illegal meat imports and the health risks that they pose, but also with the criminal gangs linked to the production of illegal meat in Britain.

All the major political parties support calls to combat illegal meat including The London Lord Mayor who is on record as saying that Customs and health officers frequently came across 'appalling' imports of meat intended for consumption in London.

He continued by saying that: 'The best way to stifle this black market trade is to pool expertise and show that we are serious about stopping the spread of illegal meat throughout our city'.

No one can argue with him on this very issue, and I sincerely hope that the Government are listening to the reason of farming unions, political parties and interested groups.

A Senior Peer admitted that the UK had a two-tier food market. He went on to say that "Higher standards in the retail and wholesale trade account for 90 per cent of what gets into the food chain. Another proportion is not of the same standard and avoids regulations before appearing in outlets or restaurants. There is a problem'.

I am concerned that, along with a failure by the courts to levy appropriate penalties for food offences, the local authorities funding is an issue.

I firmly support calls made by a Leading Trade Union for X-Ray machines installed at all ports of entry to scan personal luggage, more sniffer dogs employed around the clock at international airports, and a greater co-operation between enforcement agencies.

Should we not be adopting a similar style to North America and Australia in their Codes of Practice in ports and airports ? On both Continents, there are extreme penalties for even attempting to take illegal meat into this Country. In some cases there is immediate incarceration with no exceptions. They have strict penalties for dairy, vegetable matter and of course meat. Do you agree with me that we should have better signage warning people of the penalties? There is a need for harsher penalties. And these could be in place at relatively low cost.

Only this very week I have seen demonstrated the computer software for scanning personal luggage which can identify all organic matter in personal luggage at our ports and airports. Surely, Ladies and gentleman this in itself must be a worthwhile tool in the armoury to combat the illegal trade.

To put things in context, the value of a suitcase of illegal meat can be worth £10,000 and beyond. Yes £10,000 and beyond. And if the perpetrator gets caught, he gets fined around £50 and the goods confiscated. He is then left to simply try again. This, I am sure you will agree, is no deterrent.

Whilst on this matter, another major issue I must touch on is the dealing in endangered species meat. Here is a prime opportunity to help them - we must, and I reinforce the word must stamp out this filthy trade. This means, Ladies and Gentleman, the importing of various members of the ape family and the endangered gorilla. Surely we can see the opportunities for cross infection and other diseases which come from bush meat.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF) is a severe, often-fatal disease in humans and non-human primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976. This must be noted.

Besides the trade in this meat, we are slaughtering some of the world's rarest creatures simply to appease the greed of man. Surely we have a duty of care to the wildlife of the world as well?

What happens if a disease from illegal bush meat is transferred to man? Remember the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak.

Biosecurity is such an important issue. Without it, we might as well close our files, snap shut our briefcases and go home.

Ladies and Gentlemen. I urge you all this afternoon to support my endeavours. Together we can triumph."

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