UK faces ASF risks from illegally imported pork

11-01 | |
Photo: Canva
Photo: Canva

Growing amounts of illegal pork imports into the UK significantly increase the risk of the introduction of African Swine Fever (ASF) into the country. The National Pig Association (NPA) has therefore called for all non-commercial pork imports to the UK be made illegal and for more resources to be allocated to enforcing the law.

The NPA statement follows the revelation that since September 2022, 57 tonnes of illegally imported pigmeat have been seized in the port of Dover, by far the most important port of entry for foreign goods into the UK. In the weekend before Christmas alone, port authorities seized 5.5 tonnes of illegal meat.

Large quantities of pork just tip of the iceberg

Port health manager Beverley Edmondson said the large quantities seized in Dover port despite “limited resource,” could be just the “tip of the iceberg.”

In an article in the magazine for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (EHN), she commented, “We are seeing unprecedented quantities of illegal, non-compliant meat, unparalleled at any other point of entry. Our experiences over the last 12 months have highlighted the scale and scope of the illegal meat trade, and why our work to remove it from the food chain is so critical. We estimate that, for every tonne of illicit meat removed, there are multiple tonnes entering Great Britain undetected.”

Seizing illegal meat

NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson praised the work being done by the Dover Port Health Authority (DPHA) on behalf of the pig industry. She said, “This can be difficult and unpleasant work and we are hugely grateful for the tireless efforts being made by DPHA to seize this illegal meat that could contain ASF virus. But the volumes being seized are deeply worrying.

“It is, sadly, inevitable that lots of this illegally imported meat is getting into the country, some of which could well be infected with ASF. We understand, anecdotally, that due to the cost-of-living crisis, there is a growing black market for meat in this country, which will be driving the demand for illegally imported meat for both domestic and commercial use.”

‘It will only take one incident’

Wilson continued to say, “As we know from the regular emergence of ASF in new areas across Europe, often attributed to human spread, it will only take one incident of a piece of infected meat reaching a pig to bring the entire pig industry to its knees. We are therefore calling on the government to extend the current ban to all non-commercial pork imports rather than just consignments over 2 kg. This will make it simpler for travellers to understand and easier to enforce.

Seeking assurances from government for border checks

She called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) “to improve our border controls, generally, and are seeking assurances from government that there will be no more delays to the implementation of proper border checks on commercial imports via the Border Target Operating Model, which has now been postponed five times. An outbreak of ASF would be catastrophic for the pig sector, with many knock-on effects. We urge the government to take this threat seriously.”

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Ruud Peijs International Journalist