The National Pig Association is calling on Government to step up defences against African swine fever, which is harmless to humans but fatal to pigs. It wants Britain to step up security at border posts to prevent contaminated meat being carried illegally into the country.
Otherwise, it warns, Britain could lose its fast-growing pork export market with China and other non-European Union countries.
The disease, which can survive for months in raw, cured, cooked and even frozen meat, has advanced from Russia and Belarus into Lithuania, and now threatens to be carried further into the European Union by infected wild boar.
NPA chairman Richard Longthorp has called on food and farms minister George Eustice to press for a poster and leaflet campaign at border posts, and in-flight announcements on planes arriving from Lithuania.
African swine fever is a notifiable disease and if it arrives in this country it has the potential to seriously damage the nation’s pig industry, with animals being slaughtered en masse and a ban on British pork exports, which account for nearly a quarter of pig farmers’ income.
“The United Kingdom pig industry is just emerging from its own recession created by high feed prices, and to be struck with African swine fever now would be a blow from which some would not recover,” he said in a letter to the minister.
“We—that is the pig industry and Government—must do all we can to ensure African swine fever, or any other exotic disease, does not spread to the United Kingdom.
“The loss of exports valued at £350m would be devastating to the pig industry, a loss to United Kingdom trade, and would undermine all the great work that the pig industry and Defra have put into developing export markets for British pork and high-performance breeding pigs.”
If Britain does not act quickly, there could be a repetition of the personal and financial trauma the country’s livestock farmers suffered in the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001, he warned.