PEOPLE'S lives could be at risk from poisonous dog chews and treats imported from overseas, fear officials from Southampton Port Health Authority.

Nearly one in 12 consignments tested by the authority over the last two years have been refused entry into the UK due to dangerously high levels of the potentially lethal salmonella.

Authority officials fear youngsters and adults will be contaminated by handling the products, shipped in from the Far East, or even the surfaces and floors they have touched.

They are calling for a European-wide crackdown over imported canine chews.

Port health manager Brendan Brockway said doctors were not yet aware that this danger existed and that some of Hampshire's 184 reported salmonella cases last year may have been wrongly classified as the result of contamination by other food sources.

He said many different strains of the bacteria had been detected, adding: "We tested 1,649 dog chew samples over the last two years and more than seven per cent were rejected."

"They are mainly coming from Thailand, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries has made representations to the Thai authorities over the matter. The danger to human health is the cross-contamination of salmonella and could affect people unloading them at shops as well as customers.

"We get hundreds of tonnes of dog chews coming through the port every month and we only have the resources to take samples from less than ten per cent of the consignments."

Mr Brockway said the problem would not exist if the products, which are made from cattle hide and carry similar risks to raw meat, were properly heat-treated to remove the salmonella before they were exported.

He said: "We know that other European ports have different systems of monitoring them and there is a concern that contaminated dog chews may come through the easiest route and then enter the UK as part of the freedom of movement of goods.

"Southampton is leading the way, in association with other port health authorities and the Public Health Laboratory Service, to produce an official report and get our concerns raised at the highest level."

A Southampton and South West Hampshire Health Authority spokeswoman said it was not aware of any cases of salmonella caused by dog snacks.

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