I have been conducting research using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster since I started my PhD in 1982.  In that time I have imported countless consignments of fly strains through the post and by courier (such as Federal Express).  On only  one occasion can I recall having difficulty getting them through customs – a box of female-sterile mutants from France got stuck, and was in a frightful state when they arrived (this was during my PhD).

The general practise is for the sender to affix one of those green customs tags, asserting that the contents are a gift, of no commercial value (typically $1 may be quoted), that they are live insects, but not an agruicultural pest or a vector of disease.  So for over 26 years as a practising Drosophila geneticist, I’ve had but one case where this has presented a problem.

We are referred to Directive 91/496/EEC.  This document brings a wry smile to my face.  As I read it, I notice the very first lines are:

COUNCIL DIRECTIVE of 15 July 1991 laying down the principles governing the organization of veterinary checks on animals entering the Community from third countries and amending Directives 89/662/EEC, 90/425/EEC and 90/675/EEC (91/496/EEC)

So, firstly, someone has suddenly noticed, or reinterpreted, a directive from 18 years ago!, and second, it amends three prior directives.

Article 1 contains the statement  "This Directive shall not apply to veterinary checks on family pets accompanying travellers for non-commercial purposes, other than equidae."  So if was travelling with the flies, and claimed them as pets, it would seem that there wouldn’t be a problem.  And the mention of equidae suggests that the directive might just be intended to apply to larger animals.

 Article 2 has a series of clarifications

1. For the purposes of this Directive, the definitions contained in Article 2 of Directive 90/425/EEC shall apply as necessary.

2. In addition:

(a) ‘documentary check’ shall mean verification of the veterinary certificates or documents accompanying an animal;

(b) ‘identity check’ shall mean verification, by visual inspection only, for consistency between the documents or certificates and the animals and for the presence and conformity of the marks which must appear on the animals;

(c) ‘physical check’ shall mean a check of the animal itself, possibly including sampling and laboratory testing and, where appropriate, additional checks during quarantine;

(d) ‘importer’ shall mean any natural or legal person whopresents animals for importation into the Community;

(e) ‘consignment’ shall mean a quantity of animals of the same species, covered by the same veterinary certificate or document, conveyed by the same means of transport and coming from the same third country or same part of such country;

(f) ‘border inspection post’ shall mean any inspection post located in the immediate vicinity of the external border of one of the territories referred to in Annex I to Council Directive 90/675/EEC of 10 December 1990 laying down the principles governing the organization of veterinary checks on products entering the Community from third countries (5) and designated and approved in accordance with Article 6.

 Further on, Article 4 says:

2. Without prejudice to the exemptions pursuant to Article 8, the official veterinarian must carry out a physical check on animals presented at the border inspection post. That check must include, in particular:

(a) a clinical examination of the animals in order to ensure that they conform to the information provided in the accompanying certificate or document and that they are clinically healthy.

That’s a real cracker.  I look forward to a witnessing a vet conducting a physical (and clinical!) check on the insects, and ensuring the flies are indeed healthy.  Do we really think this is intended to apply to a laboratory fly?  I can’t see a definition of ‘animal’ in the document.

We are also referred to this piece of UK legislation: Statutory Instrument 2006 No. 1471 – The Animals and Animal Products (Import and Export) (England) Regulations 2006

I’ve yet to plough through that text, but birds seem to feature.  Perhaps flies=birds because they have wings?   Anyway, this one will run and run…