Health authorities at Britain's port of Dover could bring legal action against the government if it does not reconsider a plan to move checks on potentially dangerous foods away from the port creating what they say is a biosecurity risk.
Dover's Port Health Authority is worried about the numbers of cars, vans and lorries carrying large quantities of meat into Britain which could be contaminated, risking illegal foods entering the market and the spread of diseases such as African swine fever and foot and mouth.
Following Britain's departure from the European Union in 2020, the country has gradually been bringing in a new border system for checks.
From April, the government wants to move spot checks on products of animal origin away from Dover, which handles a third of the UK's trade in goods, to a site 20 miles (32 km) inland at Sevington.
But the Port Health Authority and a parliamentary committee say there is no mechanism to ensure that vehicles that are sent for checks will go to the site and there is a risk that vehicles could be unloaded before they arrive there.
The health authority stepped up its opposition to the plan on Friday saying it had engaged legal counsel with a view to possibly taking action.
"If the government will not reconsider the decisions or come to the table and explain how these can be delivered, then we are considering very clearly our next steps," Lucy Manzano, head of the Dover Port Health Authority, told Reuters.
"We can't see how these changes are in the best interest of GB biosecurity and can be delivered in a way that it doesn't put us all, as consumers, at risk."
In Britain, government plans can be challenged by judicial review.
Britain's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs department said it was working with the port of Dover on "future support options".
"We have strict border controls in place to protect our high biosecurity standards – and are confident that existing and new infrastructure will have the capacity and capability to maintain these standards," a government spokesperson said.
"We cannot comment further due to ongoing legal proceedings," the spokesperson said, adding that this was a reference to the potential judicial review.
The Port Health Authority's concerns about biosecurity are shared by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, whose chair has written to minister Steve Barclay about the issue.
(Reuters - Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Alison Williams)