Defra told to 'take decisive action' on ASF amid growing concern

The government has admitted that an outbreak of ASF would be a 'fundamental threat' to the viability of the British pig industry
The government has admitted that an outbreak of ASF would be a 'fundamental threat' to the viability of the British pig industry

The government has been told to 'take decisive action' with securing borders to keep African swine fever (ASF) out of the UK following new cases in Europe.

The National Pig Association (NPA) has written to Defra Secretary Thérèse Coffey, urging her to take 'more robust action' to keep the disease at bay.

It follows yet another delay in the introduction of checks on goods from the EU, as well as confirmation of Sweden's first ever case of ASF.

NPA chairman Rob Mutimer urged Defra 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 called for "more frequent and robust checks at all points of entry, including ports, airports and postal hubs".

The body welcomed measures introduced last September to limit non-commercial imports of pork and the work that has been done to raise awareness of the disease.

However, it said the continued delay to checks on goods moving from the EU to Great Britain left pig producers "exposed to ASF as it continues its relentless spread across Europe".

The government’s own Border Target Operating Model document states that "an outbreak of ASF would be a fundamental threat to the viability of our pig industry."

Mr Mutimer said: “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.

"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 13 September.

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, Defra Farming Minister 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."