Press release

Christmas holidaymakers remember: don't bring back a bug in your bags

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

New research shows lack of awareness of the risks of bringing back products from outside the EU

As thousands of holidaymakers prepare to jet off on a Christmas escape, new figures show that many are unaware of the risks of bringing plants, meat and dairy products back to the UK from outside the EU.

A Defra-commissioned survey found that:

• 1 in 4 people (25%) were not aware of the restrictions on bringing in meat and live plants, while 1 in 3 (37%) did not know the rules on dairy products;

• over half of respondents didn’t realise pests and diseases could be carried on meat products (58%);

• nearly two thirds didn’t realise dairy products could carry disease (64%); and

• approximately half of those surveyed who had brought back restricted products had not gone away with the intention to do so.

Holidaymakers wanting to bring gifts back for friends and family from countries outside the EU may not be breaking the law intentionally, but with so many tempting treats on offer in exotic places, such as a beautiful plant for your garden or unusual type of meat, it can be easy to impulse buy.

But there are strict rules in place to protect Britain from pests and diseases that affect plants and animals. This is vitally important to safeguard our economy, the environment and our health. Our food and drink exports are worth £18.9 billion and rely on our excellent plant and animal health status. Disease outbreaks can lead to bans on our exports and have a major impact on natural habitats and native species.

What might seem like a harmless looking plant cutting could be harbouring a destructive pest or disease. For example, Asian Longhorn Beetles can travel on plants and on wood packaging, and will attack and kill a range of hardwood trees. The beetle was brought into Britain in 2012 and swift action was taken to eradicate it.

Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, said;

“People can be tempted to travel back from their holidays with exotic food or plants, but by doing this they could risk bringing back a disease or pest too.

“We already have very strong measures in place to protect Britain from plant and animal diseases, but the travelling public can help further by taking care not to bring these items back.”

The survey also revealed few understood the consequences of breaking the rules. Over 70 per cent didn’t realise they could face travel delays if they were found carrying restricted products, and almost 20 per cent didn’t know that they may have the item confiscated. Staff at the border often inspect luggage so travellers may be subject to checks on return.

For those travelling abroad for Christmas the advice is to ensure you know the rules. What may seem like a good present could end up as a risky waste of money.

For information on the rules on what you can and can’t bring back: Bringing food, animals or plants into the UK

1580 people who all travel outside of the EU were surveyed