Food importation: conditions for refusing entry

United Kingdom
Regina (Seahawk Marine Foods Limited) v The Southampton Port Health Authority

Before Lord Justice Mummery, Lord Justice Buxton and Lord Justice Longmore, Court of Appeal, The Times, 5 February 2002

This case concerned a cargo of frozen cooked shrimps from Vietnam, brought by Seahawk Marine Foods Limited and intended for human consumption, which were refused entry into the UK by Southampton Port Health Authority.

The Court of Appeal held that it was not necessary, when refusing permission to allow entry into the UK of imports, to show that foodstuffs constitute an actual risk to public health.

The wording of Regulation 25 of the Products of Animal Origin (Import and Export) Regulations (SI 1996 No 3124) was examined, the Regulation provides:

“(1) … where checks at the border inspection post reveal that a consignment of products of animal origin does not comply with animal or public health conditions relating to import or, in the opinion of the official veterinary surgeon, constitutes a risk to animal or human health, an official veterinary surgeon or person acting under his supervision, after consulting the importer or his representative, may serve on the importer or his agent a notice – (a) permitting the use of the products for purposes other than human consumption … (b) ordering the re-dispatch of the consignment outside the European Community (c) ordering the destruction of the consignment.

The latitude implicit in the words “in the opinion of the official veterinary surgeon was held to mean that it was not a necessary condition of any action against particular goods that they had to be shown to constitute an actual risk to public health.

The wording of Regulation 25(1) could therefore be used to undermine the prohibition on quantitative restrictions and the complete code of Community legislation re hygiene control of fisheries and other products. In order to appeal against any such opinion under Regulation 25(1) the emphasis should be placed on the argument that the relevant health authority should not rely on an independent assessment of actual danger to public health over and above the Community legislation as opposed to arguing that the authority can only act when such a danger has been demonstrated.

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