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NPA stresses need to up ASF controls after traces of virus found in Northern Ireland

11th Jul 2019 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has reiterated its calls for robust action to keep African swine fever (ASF) at bay at UK ports and airports, after traces of the virus were detected in illegally imported meat in Northern Ireland. 

NI seized meatPort authorities in Northern Ireland seized 300kgs of illegal meat and dairy products brought in by passengers during June, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said. A sample of these seizures was tested at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) resulting in the detection of ASF DNA fragments in a sausage from Asia.

The Department said that while the discovery does not pose a significant threat to the animal health status of Northern Ireland or affect the disease free status from ASF, it reinforces the importance of the controls on personal imports of meat and dairy products enforced by DAERA officials.

ASF poses no threat to human health, but the virus, which is causing devastation in Asia and is present a number of European countries, is easily transmitted in pork products.

There are clear warnings from DAERA in place at points of entry into Northern Ireland, emphasising that meat and dairy products should not be brought into Northern Ireland in passengers' luggage and that such items may be seized by portal inspection branch staff at local ports and airports.

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.”

Jim Crummie, Daera director of plant health added: “As well as animal products, fruit and vegetables may also carry pests that can infect plants. We are asking people not to bring plants, seeds or plant products back from their holidays."

NPA response 

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."

Defra recently announced that it will be stepping up ASF controls at ports and airports, including a new poster campaign targeting travellers from ASF-affected regions, with warnings about bringing meat products into the country. 

The Department has also been working with organisations to raise awareness among pig keepers and the general public about the risks of feeding pigs and feral boar with waste food, and also among hauliers and others about the risks of spreading the virus via vehicles.