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Defra plans for AI in monitoring animal and plant imports



Department aims to develop systems to improve risk assessments and develop ‘intelligent inspections’ at the border and at sea

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has revealed a plan to use AI in monitoring imports of animals, plants and associated products.

It has posted a procurement notice for support in developing systems that applies the technology – also machine learning and data science – with the datasets used in its inspections at the border.

The prime aim is to ensure the imports are in a healthy state, initially by minimising the cost and frequency of fishery inspections then extending the use of the systems into other areas.

Defra has made the point that manual risk assessment is labour intensive and based on guidelines such as country of origin, which can make them less effective. In its place, it is aiming to develop ‘intelligent inspections’ at the border and at sea.

Two groups of users have been identified: port health officers, who need to target consignments that are less likely to comply with the regulations; and risk analysts, who need insights to define risk factors and make dynamic changes in inspection guidelines. The ultimate aim is to improve detection rates of consignments that break the rules.

Two-year programme

Defra has already conducted a review of its analytics and identified several areas of potential with AI, machine learning and data science. It has indicated that the programme could run for up to two years.

The news comes shortly after the Marine Management Organisation – one of the bodies under the Defra umbrella – indicated that it is looking to push on with plans to use more digital services in monitoring UK fisheries.

It also reflects the need to develop new digital systems to cope with the new import regimes after the UK leaves the EU. Earlier this month Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee published a report warning of “impossible challenges” and saying that Defra fears it will have to resort to “manual workarounds” in port IT systems because they will not be ready for Brexit.

Image by Jill Clardy, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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