An outbreak of the virus which has taken only 12 months to wipe out almost half of China’s pig herd – the equivalent of the EU’s entire production – is likely to occur in the UK within a year, a UK Government minister has admitted.
African swine fever (ASF) is regarded as the biggest threat to the UK’s pig industry, so the acknowledgement by Defra Farming Minister George Eustice that an outbreak is now likely has prompted the National Pig Association (NPA) to demand more robust efforts to detect and seize illegal imports of pig meat at ports and airports.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said there was “precious little evidence” that messaging about ASF is being implemented with any vigour, despite an announcement by Defra two months ago that efforts would be intensified.
Ms Davies said: “We don’t think UK Border Force is taking this 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.
“The authorities in England are lagging behind the devolved authorities, which have been far more proactive in displaying posters and checking baggage.
“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 has estimated an outbreak of ASF would cost the country £90 million, but NPA believes that figure fails to take into account the loss of export markets currently worth £470m per year.
NPA chairman, pig farmer Richard Lister, said the pig industry was doing everything it could to minimise risk, including increasing biosecurity signage on farms.
He added: “But if we are going to keep this disease out, everyone needs to take responsibility – which is why we need Defra and UK Border Force to take this seriously.”