Leaders in the British pig industry have voiced their concerns following the importation of live boars by a UK breeding from the United States, where porcine epidemic diarrheoa virus (PEDv) is rampant.
Earlier this month, Yorkshire-based JSR Genetics imported 120 Pietrain-based boars from a supplier in Kansas, US, into the United Kingdom.
At a Scottish stakeholder meeting recently, pig keepers expressed disappointment that breeding stock had been imported from the US while the deadly disease, PEDv, was devastating America's pig population.
NFU Scotland and the National Pig Association (NPA) is urging all UK pig breeding companies to refrain from bringing in any stock until the risk posed by PEDv has greatly receded.
Meanwhile, NFU Scotland has written to farm minister George Eustice and the main UK breeding companies to stress the importance of keeping PEDv out of this country.
The NPA said it did not approve of any live imports from PEDv at-risk countries for the time being, either directly to the UK or via other EU countries because the risk to UK herd health was "too high".
Earlier this year, the organisation announced that UK genetics companies had agreed a voluntary imports ban from at-risk countries. But not all companies had signed up.
Dr Zoe Davies, NPA general manager, said: "JSR imported 120 boars from the US in early August. While PEDv is raging across the US and Canada, there are a lot of unknowns. We would have preferred that they had waited to import until after the disease situation was under control in the US.
"The company has done everything it could to minimise risk. It had every stringent protocol in place – and more. However, we felt it was a risk that should not have been taken."
In Europe, there is currently a voluntary ban on the import of live pigs from North America. While stopping short of an outright ban, a stringent quarantine and testing regime is in place in the EU.
JSR Genetics, who claim they are "the UK's No.1 pig genetics and pig farming specialists", defended their decision to import the pigs, saying they had been brought into the UK while conforming to the EU-testing standards.
The firm said it had contracts with suppliers in the US to import boars and had delayed imports until the EU testing regime could distinguish between the current virulent strain of PEDv and historical ones.
On Thursday (28 August) NPA chairman Richard Longthorp, chief executive, Dr Davies and regions manager Lizzie Press visited JSR in Yorkshire to discuss biosecurity with JSR chairman Tim Rymer.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Rymer told Farmers Weekly it had been "constructive" and the company had decided not to import any more live pigs from the US until the NPA says the disease risk of PEDv has receded.
He said: "We shared our protocol with the NPA. We have not taken any risks whatsoever. We gold-plated that protocol.
"We took the pigs from a partner we have worked with for 22 years. There is no case of PEDv within 30 miles of where they are based.
"All the tests that were done on those boars in the UK were negative for everything. Ironically, they are among the healthiest pigs in the UK.
"We think they are the best boars in the marketplace and therefore there is a lot of demand for the semen. They will not go on UK farms and will be kept for breeding here.
"Vets have told us that PEDv does not transfer through semen. It's absolutely belt and braces."
PEDv was diagnosed in the US in May 2013. Since then, the virus has infected more than 4,700 farms in 30 states.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that the virus has killed more than seven million pigs and the number of cases continues to rise.
Other UK pig breeding and genetics companies, meanwhile, have expressed their commitment to the voluntary ban on imports of live pigs from PEDv countries.
Rattlerow Farms said there was a real risk of introduction of PEDv from North America and African Swine Fever from Europe and it was the responsibility of breeding companies to set an example to minimise these risks.
"We are committed to follow NPA advice and customer sentiment and have no plans to import animals originating from the USA or Canada into our United Kingdom facilities," said Robert Lawson, Rattlerow Farms' joint managing director.
"We place the maintenance of health status as our top priority and follow strict procedures on the introduction of animals into our quarantine sites." ACMC also said it was "100% committed" to the voluntary import ban of pigs in to the UK from North America or any other country with PEDv.