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African swine fever one step closer to UK herd

Reports have been confirmed that illegal meat imports seized by authorities in Northern Ireland were contaminated with the African swine fever virus.

12 July 2019, at 10:33am

According to an announcement from DAERA, over 300kg of illegal meat and dairy products were seized from luggage belonging to airport passengers in June. Diagnostic tests carried out by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Belfast confirmed the presence of ASF virus DNA, known to survive for several months in processed meats.

DAERA officials report that this type of discovery itself does not pose a significant threat to the animal health nor to the notifiable disease status of Northern Ireland, however, this is a serious reminder of the importance of border controls on the mitigating the spread of disease.

DAERA chief veterinary officer Dr Robert Huey warned that it is illegal to bring certain food and plant products back into the country to avoid the risks of importing animal or plant disease.

Dr Huey said: “The greatest risk is to our agri-food industry and our environment, as any introduction of pests, diseases and non-native species can have a potentially devastating impact. Ecosystems can be disrupted with significant knock-on effects on agriculture and the local economy.

“Imports of meat or meat products, milk and other dairy products are banned from most countries outside the EU. There are also strict controls on animal products that can be brought in from the EU.

“It is always advisable to check the rules before travel and refrain from bringing back animal products or plants that might be carrying pests or disease.

“Illegal products will be seized and destroyed. Furthermore anyone detected in possession of prohibited items risks prosecution and a fine. So please do not bring any of these products back to Northern Ireland.”

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the revelation highlighted just how vulnerable the UK pig herd is to ASF infection.

"We have always maintained that the biggest threat to the UK pig herd is from infected meat products that are illegally brought in from infected regions that then find their way into the UK pig herd or feral boar population.

"It is therefore critical that we do everything in our powers to keep infection out of the country, including clear warnings at ports and airports that make the risks and penalties from bringing meat into the country clear to everyone, as well as more proactive surveillance and seizure of illegal meat imports,” she said.

"We also need to ensure, given that the virus might already be present in the country, that all pig keepers are aware of the risks of feeding meat and waste food to pigs, which is, of course, illegal. We are also encouraging producers to put up clear signage on footpaths and other areas of public access close to pig units warning the public not to feed pigs.

"We have launched the industry-wide #MuckFreeTruck campaign to remind everyone across the supply chain and hauliers about the importance of ensuring trucks are clean and not carrying disease. And we continue to urge producers to maintain their biosecurity at all times."