The NPA has expressed shock and concern, after the Government admitted that insufficient import controls have resulted in meat being on sale in UK retailers that poses a ‘serious and immediate’ African swine fever (ASF) disease threat to the UK pig herd.
The revelation came in a document published earlier this month outlining the Government’s plans to introduce new checks on imports from this October, under its Border Target Operating Model, which is to be phased in over the following year.
The documents highlights the need for stricter checks, noting that border controls are an ‘important part of a robust import system to ensure our food is safe and that we are protected from animal and plant diseases’. A case study points out that, with ASF widespread in a number of countries on the European Continent, inside and outside the EU, an outbreak would be a ‘fundamental threat to the viability of the UK’s pig industry’.
It added: “Recent routine inspection of retail shops by local authorities in the UK detected frozen, raw and uncooked meat products marked clearly as suitable only for sale in the originating EU country.
“Further investigations found these products had been purchased by two importers, linked to over 280 retail outlets in the UK. These products were exported commercially, and properly pre-notified on the UK imports system.
“Although the products didn’t test positive for African Swine Fever on this occasion the very fact that these products reached the UK presents a serious and immediate threat to the UK pig industry.
“These goods would not have made it to the UK if Sanitary and Phytosanitary controls had been in place because they would not have been certified for export by a veterinarian in the originating country.”
While UK exporters of meat products to the EU have faced burdensome checks since January 2021, the failure of the Government to introduce post-Brexit checks on EU imports has long been a source of frustration and concern within the pig sector, particularly given the threat posed by ASF.
NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson said: “This is the first we have heard of this, and we are, to say the least, alarmed and shocked, but not altogether surprised.
“We have been saying for a number of years now that the Government’s refusal to impose proper checks on EU meat imports poses a massive and unacceptable risk to the UK pork sector.
“This is clear proof of that, as set out by the Government, which has admitted that this lack of controls means meat that has not been properly inspected and could, therefore, spark a devastating ASF outbreak in the UK has potentially been sold in numerous retail outlets in this country.
“This will be hugely concerning to all pig producers, whose livelihoods are threatened by this virus. We will be seeking assurances that the Government will be taking steps to tighten up its controls, until the new system is fully in place in October 2024.
“And after the shocking revelations, unveiled by Farmers Weekly, about criminal activity regarding food imports in this country, we will also be raising the issue with the National Food Crime Unit.”