The National Pig Association (NPA) has called for a more robust approach amidst concerns UK Border Force was not taking the threat seriously
Farming Minister George Eustice has admitted an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) was expected within a year with the National Pig Association (NPA) urging Defra and the UK port authorities to take a more robust approach.
NPA has warned an ASF outbreak would have a devastating impact on the pig sector and the families and businesses which rely on rural trade.
As part of a response to a letter from NPA chairman Richard Lister, Mr Eustice said: “The UK risk level is currently set at medium, which means an outbreak is expected within a year.”
He said Defra and the devolved authorities were working with UK border force to improve intelligence sharing, detect and seize illegal imports and raise awareness amongst travellers.
But NPA said it had seen little evidence policies were being implemented with any rigour after Defra announced ASF messaging was being stepped up.
Chief executive Dr Zoe Davies said NPA did not think the border force was taking it seriously enough.
“We are not seeing the posters being displayed with any consistency or prominence at ports and airports and there has been little interest shown in helping Defra to promote these crucial messages,” she said.
She added English authorities were lagging behind the devolved nations which had been much more proactive in displaying posters and checking baggage.
“For example, checks in Northern Ireland in June resulted in the seizure of 300kgs of illegally imported meat and dairy products and the worrying discovery of the ASF virus in sausages,” she said.
But in England she said they had seen no posters and the border force has said it did not intend to carry out targeted baggage checks.
“There are also only two sniffer dogs deployed across the entire country, which is woefully inadequate. We have called for more, but are told it is too expensive.
“If a Government Minister really thinks the virus will be here within a year, it is patently obvious that more resource and effort is needed to keep it out. And Border Force needs to demonstrate that it understands the scale of the threat.”
Mr Lister, who keeps pigs in Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, added Defra’s awareness campaign was helping but they needed proper resource invested to prevent disease incursion and a greater sense of urgency.
He added the industry was doing everything it could, including its #MuckFreeTruck campaign, increased biosecurity and contingency planning.
“But if we are going keep this disease out, everyone needs to take responsibility – which is why we need Defra and UK Border Force to take this seriously.
“It is our job to stop the virus getting into pigs – but it is the Government’s job to keep it out of the country.”
The UK’s risk level for ASF was currently set at medium, which means an instance of an infected product being brought into the UK was likely within a year.
There was a low risk of exposure to the pig population, but this was dependent on maintaining a high level of biosecurity.
A Defra spokesperson said: “The risk of an African Swine Fever disease outbreak in the UK’s pig population is low. But we know that with a growing number of cases on the Continent, the instance of an infected product being brought into the UK is likely within a year.
“This is why we are taking a robust approach to stop the disease from impacting our pig farms and are working closely with UK Border Force to detect and seize illegal imports, as well as raising awareness amongst travellers about the risks of bringing in potentially infected animal products.”