Are illegal stowaways a threat to the U.K.'s fresh produce industry?
Entire truckloads of fresh fruit and vegetables are being destroyed because illegal immigrants sneaking into Britain by hiding in the back of lorries 'contaminate' them, according to a British Member of Parliament.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Jan. 5, Sir James Paice MP for South East Cambridgeshire raised the issue claiming the U.K.'s retail sector is increasingly concerned about the volumes of fresh food supplies being condemned once stowaways are discovered.
Paice tells www.freshfruitportal.com the problem has been getting worse over the Christmas period with one local business, who he did not name, having three consignments affected within one week.
"I don't really want to speculate as to exactly where these illegal immigrants are coming from but it is quite clear that this is serious organized crime that is being planned and carried out," Paice said.
"However, we are not talking about the odd person getting into the lorry, we are talking about large numbers of people. I know of one instance recently where 12 people, including three children, got on board somehow and after their discovery, the entire load was designated as contaminated and therefore destroyed.
"Clearly the people are entering the loads before they reach the U.K. and are not being discovered until they are found once the lorry has reached say a distribution center, and then the whole load of fresh produce is condemned."
The MP spoke about the potential threat to Britain's food supply and the cost to the retail sector and local businesses involved in distribution and logistics.
"I know that drivers are told not to stop at certain points in Calais for instance just in case they are compromised, although I'm not saying they get into the lorries just at Calais - some, I understand are getting in via Spain," he added.
"I am in contact with one local company who has suffered three times recently. They use Spanish haulers, but again, we are not sure exactly what locations the illegal immigrants get on board.
"What we do know is that we are seeing a number of incidents of fresh produce being destroyed as a result which obviously has a knock on effect to food supplies and from what I understand some retailers are finding it to be an increasing problem."
The main purpose of the Commons debate was to ask U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May to agree to a meeting with a small number of affected business so she can hear from them first hand and learn more about this problem and find measures to tackle it.
"The Home Secretary agreed to my request and we will be planning a meeting," Paice added.
According to a Hansard report - official verbatim records of debates in British Parliament - May is aware of the issue.
"I am certainly happy for either I or the Immigration Minister to meet my right hon. Friend and representative of the industry. We are aware of the issue, and we are looking to introduce an improved ability to identify people in lorries when they pass through our juxtaposed controls in Calais, but as my right hon. Friend has said, the problem is that those people are often getting into the lorries further afield.
"Also, even if we find them at Calais, the load is still considered to have been damaged and contaminated."