NPA calls for Government to step up ASF surveillance

The NPA has called for the Government to take a more proactive approach at ports and airports to keep African swine fever out of the country.

The association wants to see the English and Welsh authorities follow the example set in Scotland and Northern Ireland where baggage from high risk countries is actively searched. It also wants to see an increase in the number of sniffer dogs deployed from just two that are currently used.

Last week, Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) revealed that fragments of ASF DNA had been detected in a sausage from Asia seized by port authorities. This was the result of a clamp down that saw 300kg of illegally imported meat seized and tested during June (pictured).

Defra recently announced it was introducing a poster campaign at ports and airports targeting travellers from ASF-affected regions with messages about the risks of bringing meat into the UK. The Department said it was also working with Border Force on improving its work in targeting and seizing illegally imported meat products from high risk areas.

But NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the NPA wanted to see more proactive action from the Government. “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 in operation across the UK and there no targeted plans to search baggage of passengers coming in from high risk countries, as has been the case in both Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“There also needs to be a concerted effort to collaborate with universities and other learning establishments to warn students planning on coming to the UK from affected countries about the penalties of bringing in meat illegally.”

“With the need to prepare for Brexit, we know that budgets are tight and that has been a constraint. But we are concerned that 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.”

She said there were many good examples around the world where border control resources are being significantly stepped up as a direct result of the ASF threat, including in the US, Canada, Australia and many Asian countries. Increasingly, this is revealing the presence of ASF virus in illegally transported meat.

“We need to see similar action in the UK,” she said. “The Government has estimated that a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ ASF outbreak could cost the country £90 million. We believe the figure would be much higher and that is why we are asking for more resource and effort to help prevent a potentially massive catastrophe for the UK pig industry in the coming months.”

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.