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Looming threat of African Swine Fever prompts biosecurity alert

Following reports of African Swine Fever (ASF) being detected in Sweden for the first time, industry groups are urging farmers to ramp up biosecurity and called for stricter border control measures to prevent the devastating disease from reaching UK shores.

ASF is a highly contagious viral disease that affects domestic pigs and wild boars, and should it arrive in the UK, it would have devastating consequences on the national pig herd.

The arrival of the virus in Sweden is concerning, as previously the disease has only been reported further south in Europe.

Given the significant distance between the case in Sweden and other cases on the continent, it is thought that humans have been responsible for transporting the virus through food, clothing or vehicles rather than being spread by wild boar.

In response to the news, NFU Scotland has issues three key messages to farmers, the government and the public:

  • For the public – Don’t bring pork products into the country for personal consumption or resale.
  • For farmers – Revisit your biosecurity measures around visitors and food waste.
  • For the UK Government – Protect our Borders!

“The growing threat of ASF on mainland Europe continues to loom over all pig producers in the UK,” said NFU Scotland Pigs Committee chair, Jamie Wyllie. “The impact and severity on our pig herd, were ASF to reach these shores, cannot be underestimated.

“At farm level, biosecurity remains our first line of defence and producers need to consider who and what they allow on their farm. For the public, we urge them to comply with the requirement that no pork products should be brought into the UK for personal consumption.

“And for the UK Government, it needs to understand the potential consequences of its lax approach to introducing proper post-Brexit border controls.”

Mr Wyllie stressed without proper border controls and checks, the government is leaving pig producers exposed to the disease. With the introduction of the new Border Target Operating Model until next year, the chances of stopping the spread of ASF onto the British Isles remain slim.

“The UK Government still insists ASF is a medium risk when reporting disease but without Border controls and the disease still spreading in Europe, NFU Scotland believes this should be moved to high,” Mr Wyllie added.

National biosecurity must be a priority

In a letter to Defra secretary Thérèse Coffey, NPA chairman Rob Mutimer has urged the government to take more robust action to keep ASF out of the country, after yet another delay in the introduction of checks on goods from the EU.

In the absence of proper checks at ports, he called for more frequent and robust measures to be implemented at all points of entry, including ports, airports and postal hubs, and for the UK’s biosecurity to remain a priority for the government.

Mr Mutimer welcomed measures introduced last September to limit non-commercial imports of pork and the work that has been done by the government to raise awareness of the disease.

“However, the continued delay to checks on goods moving from the EU to Great Britain leaves us exposed to ASF as it continues its relentless spread across Europe,” he said.

He went on to point out that the government’s own Border Target Operating Model document states that ‘an outbreak of African Swine Fever would be a fundamental threat to the viability of our pig industry’.

“The Government’s own assessment of the threat of ASF, and its potentially devastating impact on British pig farming, could not be clearer.

“We do understand the need to protect supply chains and shelter people from further inflationary pressures. However, a better balance needs to be struck that prioritises Britain’s biosecurity and protects our own food producers and our self-sufficiency.

“We need to use all available resources to reduce the threat of ASF reaching in the UK before SPS controls are put in place in April next year,” Mr Mutimer concluded.

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