Pig producers fear Winter Olympics threat

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Flying start: Britain won its first Olympic medal on snow this week, while fears about African swine fever mounted
Flying start: Britain won its first Olympic medal on snow this week, while fears about African swine fever mounted

Related tags: Pork

The Winter Olympics could threaten to Britain’s pig industry, warn the government and the National Pig Association (NPA).

Government officials fear visitors returning from games, taking place in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, could inadvertently introduce into Britain African swine fever in contaminated meat products.

Border Force officers have been ordered to pay particular attention to passengers returning from Sochi, confirmed George Eustice, food and farming minister, in a letter to the NPA.

The letter, addressed to NPA chairman Richard Longthorp, said the Border Force recognised the Winter Olympics as a period of particular importance.

Longthorp said: “The pig industry and government must do all we can to ensure African swine fever, or any other exotic disease, does not get into the UK.

‘Devastating to the pig industry’

“The loss of exports valued at £350M would be devastating to the pig industry, a loss to United Kingdom trade, and would undermine all the great work that the pig industry and DEFRA​ [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] have put into developing export markets for British pork and high-performance breeding pigs.”

The concern was fuelled by recent reports that shops in Russia have been selling meat products contaminated with the African swine fever virus. The virus can survive in raw, cured, cooked and even frozen meats for months. “If infected meat found its way onto a British pig farm – for example in a discarded ham sandwich – it would cause havoc in the nation’s pig industry,”​ warned the NPA.

Harmless to humans but fatal to pigs, the discovery of the virus in the UK would result in the compulsory slaughter of pigs in affected areas and the loss of Britain’s fast-growing pork export market with non-EU countries.

Russia restricted the import of pigs and pig meat from all 28 EU member states after the discovery of African swine fever in two wild boars in southern Lithuania last month. EU health commissioner, Tonio Borg, said Russia had imposed “unprecedented trade restrictions” ​and urged Moscow to reconsider is ban.

Eustice promised to introduce extra controls if the virus spreads from wild boar in Lithuania to domestic pigs.

‘Checks on passengers’

To combat the threat, he pledged Brussels and DEFRA would work with the Border Force “to ensure the travelling public are aware of the restrictions and to undertake checks on passengers”.

NPA has urged the government to introduce in-flight announcements on flights from Lithuania and to introduce leaflets and warning posters at all border posts.

The origin of the UK’s most devastating animal disease – the food-and-mouth outbreak of 2001,  which resulted in the deaths of millions of animals and cost the UK economy up to £9bn – was never traced. Theories ranged from infected meat fed to pigs, in the form of swill, on a Northumberland farm to contaminated meat products imported by the British Army.

Meanwhile, Britain won its first Olympic medal​ on snow this week, when snowboarder Jenny Jones won a bronze medal in the slopestyle event. 

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