UNITED KINGDOM, London. The NPA has called for a more robust approach from Defra and the UK port authorities to keeping disease out of the UK, after a Government Minister admitted an outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) is likely within a year.
The startling admission came from Farming Minister George Eustice as he responded to a letter from NPA chairman Richard Lister. Commenting on the Government’s efforts to keep ASF out of the country, Eustice added: “The UK risk level is currently set at medium, which means an outbreak is expected within a year.”
Eustice elaborated 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.
Yet since an announcement by Defra in July that ASF messaging at airports and ports was being stepped up, the NPA has seen precious little evidence that the policies are being implemented with any rigour.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We don’t think UK Border Force is taking this seriously enough. The authorities in England are lagging behind the Devolved authorities, which have been far more proactive in displaying posters and checking baggage. 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. And Border Force needs to demonstrate that it understands the scale of the threat.”
ASF has wiped out almost half of China’s pig herd since last August, which equates to the entire EU production. An ASF outbreak would have a devastating impact, not only on the UK pig sector, but also on the many families and businesses that rely on rural trade. The Government has estimated it could cost the country £90 mill. – which the NPA believes is a gross underestimation as it does not take into account the loss of export markets, currently worth £470 mill. a year.