While welcoming a new poster campaign by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) to raise awareness at points of entry into the UK, NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said there needed to be “more tangible evidence” of the Government’s intention to tackle the problem.
“Infected imported meat is one of the key routes for ASF to enter the country, which is why the risk needs to be addressed,” she said.
However, there are currently just two sniffer dogs deployed to detect meat in passenger luggage operating across the UK and there are no targeted plans to search the baggage of passengers coming in from high-risk countries.”
Defra campaign to safeguard industries
Launched on 31 July, Defra’s campaign aims to safeguard the UK’s pork and pig industries by targeting anyone who has the potential to introduce ASF to the UK.
Posters will be introduced to UK airports and ports throughout the summer, to raise awareness of the disease and the risks of bringing back contaminated products.
In June, traces of the ASF virus were found in meat brought into Northern Ireland illegally.
In the same month, more than 300kg of illegal meat and dairy products detected in passenger luggage was seized by officials at Northern Ireland’s airports, according to the country’s Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs.
The disease, which poses no threat to human health but is fatal for pigs, has already spread widely across Asia – including China and Vietnam – and parts of central and Eastern Europe.
Last week, a sixth farm in Bulgaria was confirmed to have detected ASF in its pigs. The total number of outbreaks detected in the country stands at 30, according to the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency.
£85m cost to the UK pig industry
Defra estimated an ASF outbreak could cost the UK pig industry £85m, as a “reasonable worst-case scenario”.
This, it added, reflected the lost value of animals from culling, movement bans and trade restrictions, as well as costs of up to £5m for the Government for disease control activities. The NPA, however, believed the figure would be much higher.
“We are asking for more resource and effort to help prevent a potentially massive catastrophe for the UK pig industry in the coming months,” Davies said.
“With the need to prepare for Brexit, we know that budgets are tight and that has been a constraint. But we are concerned that the UK Border Force is not taking the ASF threat seriously enough – it should be demanding more money from the Treasury to ensure it is up to the task.
“There also needs to be a concerted effort to warn students planning on coming to the UK from affected countries about the penalties of bringing in meat illegally.”
Lord Gardiner, minister for biosecurity, said: “While there has never been an outbreak of African swine fever in the UK, we are not complacent and already have robust measures in place to protect against animal disease outbreaks.
“This poster campaign at UK airports and ports adds to the strict control measures we have put in place to ensure that no live pigs, wild boar or pork products from affected areas reach the UK.”