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Defra showcases sniffer dogs at Heathrow in ASF crackdown

3rd Oct 2019 / By Alistair Driver

Defra appears to be stepping its efforts to keep African swine fever (ASF) out of the country, including the use of sniffer dogs at Heathrow Airport.

ASF Gardiner HeathrowThis morning (Thursday), Defra Minister Lord Gardiner and UK Chief Vet Christine Middlemiss witnessed the sniffer dogs in action during a visit to the airport to find out more about the work of Border Force and their highly trained dogs to ensure the UK remains free of ASF. The exercise focused on passenger arrivals directly from South East Asian countries where ASF is currently causing widespread devastation.

Defra said UK Border officials enforce controls at the border on illegal meat by using sniffer dogs and searching freight, passengers and luggage. The Department stressed that they will seize and destroy illegally imported meat products because the disease is highly contagious and the virus can survive in pork meat products, even if cooked or frozen.

ASF sniffer dogsLord Gardiner said: “It is essential that we keep African swine fever out of the UK and I would like to thank Border Force colleagues for taking the time this morning to show us all they do to prevent infected pork meat products arriving on our shores.

“While there has never been an outbreak of African swine fever in the UK, we are not complacent and already have robust measures in place to protect against animal disease outbreaks.”

UK Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: “This morning I witnessed first-hand Border Force’s great work to ensure the UK remains ASF free. However, we all have a role to play and it is crucial that anyone travelling from affected regions doesn’t bring pork meat products into the UK.”

In July, Defra launched a new campaign, working closely with the Devolved Administrations, at the UK’s border to help keep the damaging animal disease out of the country. The Department has also written to universities to ask them to contact international students about not bringing in meat products when they come to the UK to study.

The NPA, which has repeatedly called for more robust action to keep ASF out of the country, welcomed the steps being taken. "It is really good to see they are taking this seriously and hopefully more action will result from it," NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said. 

Advice on preventing disease spread

Defra has also issued advice on the main ways that the disease can spread and how to prevent this spread:

  • Tourists or travellers bringing contaminated pork products with them from infected areas. All travellers are strongly advised to avoid bringing any pork products – including preserved meats, ham or pork sandwiches – back to the UK. Bringing in potentially contaminated pork products from affected regions is an offence – it can result in prosecution and a large fine.
  • Pig keepers and members of the public feeding catering waste, kitchen scraps or pork products to their animals. It is illegal to do so.
  • Travellers returning from ASF-affected areas coming into contact with domestic pigs, commercial holdings or smallholdings. The disease can spread via contaminated clothing, footwear or equipment, as well as pork products.
  • Contaminated vehicles and equipment being taken onto commercial pig premises or workers wearing contaminated clothing or boots when entering pig premises.

The disease, which poses no threat to human health but is fatal for pigs, has spread widely across Asia over the past years and is still spreading in Central and Eastern Europe. Cases have also been reported throughout Sub Saharan Africa.

If the disease was found in this country, it could have a devastating impact on the UK’s commercial pig stock of five million pigs, as well as the trade of our pork products.

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