Flying to the foot-and-mouth capital
As I returned to Italy with a box of Milk Tray chocolates for my wife, I guessed what it must feel like to be a smuggler.
In the days leading up to my weekend trip to Britain from Italy, friends and relatives questioned whether it would be safe to eat British dairy products or meat, and whether I would venture into the countryside. My local butcher was distinctly nervous that I may import the foot-and-mouth disease into Italy (and his shop) on my return.
These concerns were reinforced when I arrived at the north Italian airport of Treviso. At the check-in desk a large poster published by the Italian Ministry of Health read:
‘For passengers coming from the United Kingdom – DANGER! You may be unintentionally carrying foot-and-mouth disease virus which can infect livestock in this country or in your country of final destination.’
Why this was placed in the departure hall remains unclear. What was crystal clear is that the panic over foot-and-mouth has firmly taken hold – even though no cases of the disease have been found in Italy during this year’s European scare.
The Italian government was more extreme than the European Union (EU) in its banning of animal imports susceptible to foot-and-mouth. The Italian ban on imports went even further than the previous EU restrictions by including non-EU countries. The Italian government also enacted legislation temporarily banning the movement of livestock within Italy, outlawing circus shows, animal fairs and markets.
In the UK, it seems that the government has a lot of work to do to attract Italian and other foreign tourists. But their case will not be helped by the policies applied to those leaving the UK for Italy.
At the check-in desk at Stansted Airport, I was asked whether I was carrying any meat or dairy products out of the country. I confidently replied ‘No’. But as I passed through the security check, I suddenly remembered that I had previously attempted to fulfil my wife’s craving for chocolate by buying a box of ‘Milk Tray’ that was in my hand luggage. As my brow began to sweat, I guessed what it must feel like to be a smuggler.
Having passed through the security check successfully, I spotted a poster published by the UK government’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food MAFF). It began: ‘Leaving the UK? It is illegal to take the following products into any country: fresh meat, meat products, fresh milk, milk products.’
Fortunately, the end of the poster reassured: ‘BUT…biscuits, boiled sweets, toffees and chocolate are okay.’
I breathed a sigh of relief, although was left concerned about why ‘Milk Tray’ chocolates are not considered a milk product. Would it make a difference if I bought Belgian chocolates next time?
While the definition of a ‘milk product’ had left me confused, the attempt to prevent the entry of foot-and-mouth into Italy on our arrival back at Treviso airport seemed unlikely to be successful. As we landed we were told that anybody who had been on a farm or come into contact with livestock should identify themselves. Then they would be taken to a special area to have all their shoes disinfected, and be instructed about how to wash all their clothes, shower, wash hair and scrub finger nails.
Strangely, this announcement was only made in English. Maybe there is a presumption that non-English speakers are not visiting the countryside. Less surprisingly, nobody took up this offer to be given the contemporary ‘leper’ label – and to be on the safe side, I kept quiet about my chocolates.
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