NPA calls on Defra Secretary to act on ASF risk, after border check delays
15th Sep 2023 / By Alistair Driver
NPA chairman Rob Mutimer has written to Defra Secretary Thérèse Coffey, urging her to take more robust action to keep African swine fever (ASF) out of the UK, after yet another delay in the introduction of checks on goods from the EU.
With new cases of the deadly pig virus recently confirmed for the first time in wild boar in Sweden and in commercial pigs in northern Italy, Mr Mutimer reiterated the seriousness of the ASF threat and the urgent need to step up the UK’s biosecurity.
He urged the Defra Secretary to ‘take decisive action to put in place the proper protections at our borders and ensure that the UK’s biosecurity remains a priority for the Government’.
In the absence of proper checks at ports, following the most recent delay to the Border Target Operating Model, the NPA is calling for more frequent and robust checks at all points of entry, including ports, airports and postal hubs.
Mr Mutimer welcomed measures introduced last September to limit non-commercial imports of pork and the work that has been done by the Government to raise awareness of the disease.
“However, the continued delay to checks on goods moving from the EU to Great Britain leaves us exposed to ASF as it continues its relentless spread across Europe,” he said.
He pointed out that the Government’s own Border Target Operating Model document states that ‘an outbreak of African Swine Fever would be a fundamental threat to the viability of our pig industry’.
It goes on to add that recent routine inspection of retail shops by local authorities in the UK detected frozen, raw and uncooked meat products marked clearly as suitable only for sale in the originating country. These products were exported commercially, and properly pre-notified on the UK imports system.
Crucially, the case study concludes that: “These goods would not have made it to the UK if Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) controls had been in place because they would not have been certified for export by a veterinarian in the originating country.”
Mr Mutimer added: “Although the products didn’t test positive for African Swine Fever on this occasion, the very fact that these products reached the UK presents a serious and immediate threat to the UK pig industry.
“The Government’s own assessment of the threat of ASF, and its potentially devastating impact on British pig farming, could not be clearer.
“We do understand the need to protect supply chains and shelter people from further inflationary pressures. However, a better balance needs to be struck that prioritises Britain’s biosecurity and protects our own food producers and our self-sufficiency.
“While the Government awaits the introduction of the Border Target Operating Model, we ask that our borders be significantly better protected through more frequent and robust checks at all points of entry, including ports, airports and postal hubs.
"We need to use all available resources to reduce the threat of ASF reaching in the UK before SPS controls are put in place in April next year."
The issue was also raised in parliament during a debate to mark Back British Farming Day on Wednesday.
Conservative MP Neil Hudson asked whether Defra Ministers agreed that 'getting this targeted border operating model up and running and working is critical to the nation’s biosecurity, animal health and welfare and public health'? He stressed the need for the Animal and Plant Health Agency to be 'resourced and staffed so that it can monitor the borders properly, and also to upgrade the facilities at Weybridge in Surrey'.
Responding, Farming Mark Spencer described the border target operating model as 'a very important milestone for the UK'.
"Introducing biosecurity controls on imports is not optional," he said. "They are critical to protecting us from harmful diseases such as African swine fever, but they are also essential to protect our international trading interests; our trading partners want to be reassured that we maintain the highest biosecurity standards.
"The overall ambition of the BTOM is to introduce robust controls that protect biosecurity while reducing administrative and cost burdens for importers."