The government's decision to ditch plans to start checks on EU imports exposes British farmers to the risk of devastating diseases like African swine fever, the pig sector has warned.
The government will scrap the planned introduction of import checks on animals and animal products coming into the UK from 1 July 2022.
Checks on EU imports have been delayed three times already. The government had initially planned to enforce them in January 2021 at the end of the Brexit transition period.
This subsequent failure to fully implement Border Control checks has meant EU food and agricultural imports are not subject to the rigorous checks placed on UK exports.
Farming industry groups say the checks are crucial to the UK's biosecurity, animal health and food safety, and without them they leave farmers exposed.
Now the National Pig Association (NPA) has warned that the government's decision could put the UK pig sector at risk of diseases such as African swine fever (ASF).
The lethal pig disease is currently spreading in domestic animals across Germany, and has also been found in Belgium, Romania, and Poland.
Asian countries – including major pig producing countries such as China and Vietnam – have been hit particularly hard by it, and cases have also been reported in Sub Saharan Africa.
The disease has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of pigs and wild boar in Europe, and millions in Asia.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “Not only does this extend these grossly unfair trading conditions at a time when the pig sector desperately needs fairness and a level playing field, it exposes the farming industry to potentially devastating diseases like ASF.”
The NPA's concerns and fears are widely echoed elsewhere within the industry.
Citing the threat of a ‘catastrophic’ ASF incursion, British Veterinary Association (BVA) senior vice president James Russell said the ‘deeply misguided’ move flies in the face of common sense.
Mr Russell also warned that it undermines the government’s commitment to preserve high levels of animal and human health in the UK.
He urged the government to abandon the plan and remove the threat of ‘significant damage to our food and farming industries’.
“If not, the government must urgently set out how it will safeguard animal health and welfare in the UK in the coming months,” he said.
NFU president Minette Batters said the government’s unacceptable approach had left British farmers at an ‘unfair continued competitive disadvantage’ to EU competitors.
“These checks are absolutely crucial to the nation’s biosecurity, animal health and food safety and without them we really do leave ourselves at risk,” she said.
British Meat Processors Association chief executive Nick Allen warned that the decision was a ‘double-edged sword’ for many meat businesses.
“It makes imports cheaper and easier but comes with some serious risks of food fraud, unfair competition and compromises to animal health."