Responding to a letter from National Pig Association (NPA) chairman Richard Lister, Farming Minister George Eustice explained the current threat level for the disease that has decimated pig numbers in Asia. Eustice said: “The UK risk level is currently set at medium, which means an outbreak is expected within a year.”
Eustice added that Defra and the devolved authorities are actively working with UK Border Force to improve intelligence sharing and detect and seize illegal imports and to raise awareness amongst travellers about the risks of bringing in potentially infected animal products.
The NPA warned that more needs to be done to protect UK borders. “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,” said NPA chief executive Zoe Davies. “And Border Force needs to demonstrate that it understands the scale of the threat.”
Davies questioned if the issue was being taken seriously enough despite a poster campaign being announced earlier this year. “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.
“The authorities in England are lagging behind the Devolved authorities, which have been far 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.
“But in England, we haven’t seen any posters at all and Border Force has stated that they do 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.”
The government estimates that an outbreak of ASF in the UK would cost in the region of £90m however the NPA believes that this is quite conservative, especially given the export market which is worth £470m a year.
Lister said more investment in the area is sorely needed. “Defra’s awareness campaign, run in conjunction with the industry is helping, but there needs to be proper resource invested to ensure all avenues to prevent disease incursion are explored and a greater sense of urgency needs to be injected into the campaign.
“The pig industry is doing everything it can to minimise the risk, including the widely-publicised #MuckFreeTruck campaign, increased biosecurity signage on pig units and contingency planning on farms.
“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’s our job to stop the virus getting into pigs – but it’s the Government’s job to keep it out of the country.”
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