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Dover checks uncover illegal meat, highlighting ASF risk for pig sector

24th Oct 2022 / By Alistair Driver

Large volumes of raw meat from countries that have reported African swine fever (ASF) in their pig herds have been seized in a 24-hour operation at Dover port. 

Dover portThe checks by the Dover Port Health Authority followed the introduction of new rules by the Government making it illegal from September 1 to bring pork or pork products weighing over 2kg into the country unless they are produced to the EU’s commercial standards.  The change, which followed intense NPA lobbying, was introduced to raise the country's defences against ASF. 

As part of the policing of the new rules, Operation Ouzo, a multi-agency exercise to check the adequacy of existing controls at the border, took place at the port from Saturday lunchtime to Sunday lunchtime in early October.

Inspectors searched 22 vehicles of Romanian, Moldovan, Ukrainian and Polish origin, Dover MP Natalie Elphicke told a House of Commons debate on Dover’s border controls last week.

They discovered raw animal products loosely stored in carrier bags and paper tissue without temperature control, refrigeration or labelled identification, and mixed with ready-to-eat products such as cheese, crisps and cake, according to the 20-page operational report.

In one case, raw, unlabelled and loosely-wrapped pork was found at the bottom of a taped-up wheelie bin, which was filled with other products intended for free circulation within the UK.

“We need to remember that it is not 22 vehicles a day entering the UK at Dover. There are up to 10,000 vehicle movements across the channel each day,” Ms Elphicke said.

“It is clear that the risk of maggoty meat, meat of unknown origin, which often means horse or other illegal meat, rotting meat due to the lack of temperature controls, as well as fresh blood dripping on to other products, is of real concern,” the MP said.

ASF risk

Romania has just reported another ASF outbreak on a large farm, the latest in a growing number of confirmed cases this year. 

Ms Elphicke highlighted the ASF risk, citing Government warnings that the disease ‘poses a significant risk to our pig herd and our long-term ability to export pork and pork products around the globe’.

“The illegal pork trade is rife at the port of Dover - so rife that around 80% of that illegal trade comes through the short straits. Without adequate checks, there is nothing to stop it,” the MP added.

The operation also found pesticides on eastern European flax seeds found to exceed the maximum level for UK health safety, she said.

Ms Elphicke said the checks highlighted ‘why it is wrong to outsource our food and biosecurity to the EU, and not have our own robust controls’.

She pointed out that a new port health facility at Dover, which was ‘fully ready for border checks’ with extra staff recruited, was ‘unexpectedly mothballed’ in the summer due to the decision by then Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg’s to abandon plans to introduce UK checks on EU imports.

This was in spite of the Cabinet Office receiving a ‘shocking report’ from Dover’s port health authority in May, ahead of the decision, about ‘poisonous food and serious biosecurity concerns’, she said.

NPA reaction

NPA chief policy adviser Rebecca Veale said the NPA was ‘very pleased’ when the Government introduced new restrictions on the movement of pork and pork products in September.

“We had been calling for action for some time,” she said. “The aim of the restrictions is to stop illegal consignments such as this, which in this instance were clearly not safe for human consumption but also poses a significant risk to UK pigs, given they are arriving from countries affected by ASF and with no control or oversight.

“ASF is a notifiable disease which not only would severely compromise the health and welfare of pigs and can potentially devastate businesses up and down the country, it would also have huge implications for our ability to export pigmeat, which is important for carcase balance.

“With disease prevalence in so many EU countries, several human-mediated ‘jumps’ across these countries and the fact that the virus can survive for a long time in infected meat (up to 1000 days in frozen pork), keeping illegal imports out of the country is an absolute priority.”

Keeping ASF out of the UK pig herd

The NPA has set out how everyone can help to stop the spread of ASF to the UK by doing the following:

  • If you are visiting non-EU countries, you must not bring any pork or pork products back to the UK.
  • If you are visiting EU or EFTA countries (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein), you must not bring pork or pork products, which are over 2kg unless they meet EU commercial production standards.
  • Disposing of leftovers or food waste in secure bins that pigs or wildlife cannot access.
  • Farmers, the public and members of the food industry should practice high biosecurity standards, including never feeding catering waste, kitchen scraps or meat products to pigs, which is illegal and can spread the disease.