A new border campaign has been launched by Defra to reduce the threat of African Swine Fever (ASF) entering the UK.
The UK’s chief vet Christine Middlemiss told a press briefing on Tuesday (July 30) that the government was focusing on a series of targeted poster campaigns to get the message out to people returning from summer holidays or moving to the UK for university.
Passengers at UK airports and ports will be warned that pork products brought in from infected areas could result in prosecution and a large fine, with illegal meat products being seized and destroyed.
The disease has already spread widely across Asia, in China and Vietnam, as well as parts of central and eastern Europe.
About four million pigs and wild boar have been culled in China, with more than 800,000 in Europe.
It comes just weeks after DNA fragments of the virus were found in the UK for the first time following the seizure of illegally imported meat at Northern Ireland’s airports.
Ms Middlemiss said: “[The virus] is having a devastating impact on farmers, rural society and trade.
“We export a lot of the fifth quarter, such as trotters and heads, that our consumers do not want to buy. There is added value to this in trade so losing out [if the UK became infected] would be really significant to the industry.”
There is currently no vaccine to prevent the spread of ASF – although research is ongoing – because there are not many unique features on the surface of the virus for a vaccine to recognise.
Pig keepers have been urged to ramp up biosecurity measures and hauliers told of the symptoms to look out for when transporting stock, to avoid contamination.
“It is about being really strict about who visits your farm, whether it be once a week or once a year, as they have the potential to bring the disease,” Ms Middlemiss said.
“We are seeing an increasing number of bed and breakfast pigs. Thinking within this chain of pig movements, biosecurity is only as good as the weakest link.”
Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said she believed the estimated £90 million ‘worst-case scenario’ costs would in reality be much higher.
She added: “That is why we need to mobilise every available resource and effort to help prevent such as catastrophe.”