29/03 Private Eye

Last November the Beloved Leader's farming supremo Rosa Klebb (aka Mrs Beckett) announced that responsibility for keeping out the illegal imports of infected meat blamed for Britain's £8 billion foot and mouth disaster would now rest solely with customs officials at our ports and airports.  No evidence has ever been produced to prove that imported meat did bring the disease into the country. But from the moment the epidemic began, farmers were agitating for Britain to adopt something like the system in place in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, whereby the most rigorous checks are made on all incoming passengers and their baggage.   
Just before Christmas Rosa's new system was put to the test by one of Britain's ever-growing number of ex-dairy farmers, Peter Weston-Davies, when he arrived at Stansted airport from a holiday in France. Pushing his trolley full of freshly-shot venison, he marched into the EU passport holders' area, to find no customs officer. Anxious to confirm that Britain was now being properly protected against any repeat of the 2001 catastrophe), he therefore headed for the red non-EU passport holders' zone, designated for passengers with 'something to declare'.  Again, no customs officer was on duty, but at least there was a telephone for passengers to alert customs staff that they wished their baggage to be inspected.

Down the line, he asked for someone to look over his pack of meat. He was told he would have to wait four and a half hours, the time it would take an inspector to drive to Stansted. So startled was he by this approach that he decided to change his tune. What, he asked, if he confessed that it was not venison he was pushing in his trolley but a consignment of crack cocaine. The customs official laughed and said "Then you'd better just keep pushing, sir".

In March 2001, when the foot and mouth epidemic was at its height, the Maffia were only too keen to claim that the disease must have been caused by illegal imports of meat.
Farming minister Nick Brown even suggested, again on no evidence at all, that the epidemic must have been started by smuggled meat served in a Newcastle Chinese restaurant (for which he later had to issue a grovelling apology, if oniy on the grounds that his claim might have been interpreted as racist).
 A legal meat importer Clive Lawrance revealed, with the aid of Farmers Weekly, that thousands of tons of illicit meat were coming into Britain each year and that there were virtually no controls in place to stop it. In October 2001 even the NFU submitted a 30,000-signature petition to the government, asking for something to be done.

Finally last year junior farming minister Lord Whitty proudly announced that two specially-trained sniffer dogs would be sent to Heathrow to trot along the conveyor belts checking passengers' luggage. In October Farmers Weekly reported that a dispute over office costs had led to a delay in the setting up of a six-man team to target illegal meat imports at Heathrow. In December Mr Weston-Davies tested whether the system was yet working at Stansted, with the results reported above. Now the word is that one of the dogs at Heathrow has developed an aversion to conveyor belts and has been allowed to stay in its kennel with a sick note. For zeal in policing Britain's frontiers, it scarcely compares with the hundreds of customs officials recruited to steal 20,000 vehicles from cross-channel motorists for the crime of bringing in a few cartons of B and H.