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Imports/exports – animals and animal products

Inspecting imported animal or food products

Import and exports of animals and animal products represent an important and significant contribution to the UK economy – but they can also bring with them the risk of animal diseases. Imports are therefore subject to strict controls at the UK border under EU and national rules.

International trade is often subject to complex government negotiations. Defra, as the recognised UK lead department for international trade, facilitates UK exports of animals and animal products.

Latest news

Key facts and figures

  • During the last quarter, nearly 1,000 disease outbreaks worldwide have been reported on and assessed for risk and possible impact on UK animal and public health and trade status.
  • Recent outbreaks include foot and mouth disease in East Asia and HPAI H5N1 in Eastern Europe. All have been reported on both publicly and to our delivery agents when raised awareness is required.
  • The number of seizures of illegal imports of Products of Animal Origin (POAO) in 2009/10 totalled 21,267, approximately a 3% increase compared with 2008/09, largely through refocusing deployments to target the high risk routes for illegal meat and dairy products carried by incoming travellers more effectively.
  • Industry data for 2008 places the value of livestock and product exports at £1.52 billion – this includes exports to Europe & beyond. More generally, there is an overall expanding market trend across most products, e.g. meat exports have increased by £14.5 million, breeding pig exports increased by £3 million, and bovine semen exports increased by half.

The case for government action

Apart from animal diseases, risks can also be to public health (diseases such as highly pathogenic avian influenza type H5N1 can infect humans and is of serious public concern) or economic (the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 is estimated to have cost in excess of £3 billion directly to the agricultural and food sectors).

Imports and intra-EU trade in Animals and Animal Products

Trade within the EU

Live animals and their products (including germplasm), are traded freely within the EU. Responsibility lies with the Member State of origin to ensure that such trade meets animal and public health standards as set out in EU legislation.

Member States use the Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES), an EU web based system, to produce harmonised health certification for the trade in live animals and their germplasm between EU Member States. There are no border controls for intra-union trade and EU rules permit non-discriminatory checks for compliance purposes only.

Imports from third countries

Animals and their products imported to the EU from third countries must have been produced to animal and public health standards at least equivalent to those in the EU.

They may only be imported from countries approved by the EU and, in case of food, from approved establishments. All products must be accompanied by the appropriate animal and/or public health certification and then entered on the EU’s Trade Control and Expert System (TRACES) which provides robust tracking and audit.

Animals and products may only enter the EU at specifically approved points of entry – called Border Inspection Posts – where they are subject to checks by Port Health Authorities or the Animal Health Agency.

Controls and enforcement

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is responsible for anti-smuggling controls at the GB border on imports of animal products. UKBA deliver a flexible, risk-based enforcement strategy including information from Defra on entry routes that pose the greatest threat of introducing animal disease, targeting by country of origin, specific intelligence and results from operational checks.

Defra (with UKBA and the FSA) undertake an ongoing publicity programme to highlight the risk posed by illegal personal imports of foodstuffs of animal origin Personal imports of meat and dairy products are banned from most countries outside of the EU, with small amounts of other products such as eggs, fish and honey permitted.

Third country exports: animals and animal products

Exports of animals and animal products ensure UK presence on the global market and thus enhance the political and economic role of the UK. Our role in facilitating Export Health Certificates (EHCs) supports the UK economy and global trade in animals and animal products, whilst also addressing global efficiency in food production, global food supply and relations with food, non-food and farming sectors.

The conditions permitting the export of animals and animal based products to non-EU countries are set by the importing countries’ animal and food health administrations. Products need to be accompanied by EHCs that attest to the fulfilment of those conditions. The conditions are often based on agreed international norms. However, where there are particular human or animal health concerns, the authorities in the importing country can go beyond them and impose stricter conditions.

Negotiating EHCs for new markets or to regain lost ones can be long and laborious with potential severe political and economic risk if mis-handled; in most cases, government intervention is needed.

Access to markets is affected by the animal health status of the exporting country, and supporting industry in regaining lost markets continues to be required long after a disease outbreak has been controlled. Unlike trade with EU Member States, negotiations with third countries can be difficult and can often only take place through inter-governmental contact.

In line with wider government policies, we recognise the relevant industry sectors themselves need to take greater responsibility for activities which are of direct benefit to them. This could include paying for services which previously have been offered free. In addition, we are seeking ways to bring our delivery partners such as Animal Health (AH) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), to be more involved in these activities. Core Defra would, however, retain overall competence because of our lead role.

Involvement of the various industry sectors in the export certification process encourages industry to help itself and is in line with the principle of beneficiary, not tax payer, pays, and is fully in line with our wider Departmental objectives and the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy.

Relevant legislation and regulations

Key publications and documents

The Annual Review of Controls on Imports of Animal Products April 2009 – March 2010 (PDF 1.3 MB)

A list of export health certificates (PDF 980 KB).

Information including application for Compartmentalisation for poultry breeding companies  and on the Poultry Health Scheme.

Page last modified: 7 March 2011