Pig farmers have been sounding the alarm after the recent confirmation of ASF cases on a farm close to the German-Dutch border

The British Meat Processors Association has called for spot checks on food and travellers entering the country, warning the lack of border controls on imports from the EU has left the UK’s pig herds vulnerable to an outbreak of African Swine Fever.

British pig farmers have been sounding the alarm after the recent confirmation of cases on a farm close to the German-Dutch border, hundreds of miles west of previously reported cases among wild boar in the east of the country and the dozens of cases in the wild and on farms in countries including Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Already struggling since late last year with soaring input costs, labour shortages and price fluctuations, pig farmers “would be hit hard” if ASF reached the UK, the BMPA warned.

The trade body said the government should bring in spot checks after more cases of the virus were reported in western Germany, because it could be carried west on “something as innocuous as a meat sandwich”.

Its CEO Nick Allen said the government should “make travellers more aware of the risks of bringing prohibited food items into the UK” as well as “encourage them to dispose of those products responsibly before entry”. Spot checks on travellers entering the UK should be applied, Allen added.

The National Pig Association, too, has warned farmers to be “vigilant” after the appearance of the virus close to the German-Dutch frontier, which Defra said served as “an important reminder of the ability of ASF to spread long distances to a previously unaffected region, often via human-mediated routes”.

Zoe Davies, the NPA’s CEO, said travellers carrying items of food into the UK could be likeliest conduits for the virus, while Defra last week said the risk of people bringing it into the country was “high”. 

‘Millions in lost trade’ warning

Should the disease be be confirmed in the UK, it would likely prompt “an immediate ban on UK pork exports to some of our biggest international trading partners, including China”, the BMPA warned, leading to “a significant drop in meat exports and cost the industry millions in lost trade”.

Several recent bouts of swine fever have largely cost Germany its once-lucrative pigmeat market in China, which has since largely replaced imported pork with domestically-sourced supply – a market flip that has contributed to a “record high” in June for global meat commodity prices, which was reported last week by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The UK only recently regained access to the US market for its beef and lamb after outbreaks in the 1980s and 1990s of BSE, while in 2001 the country faced widespread food trade bans over a foot and mouth disease outbreak. More recently the country’s egg sector has been hit hard by bird flu, which resulted in widespread culling and the temporary removal from supermarket shelves of free-range eggs.

Goods checks postponed

The swine fever concerns come after the government recently postponed, for a fourth time, the scheduled imposition of checks on goods from the EU, which were due to come in after the post-Brexit EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Some in the food industry welcomed the postponement, which the government justified on the grounds that enforcing checks would add to industry costs and in turn food inflation.

However others accused the government of sowing confusion and forcing unnecessary expense on importers and hauliers, who had been preparing for the start of checks.

Despite the postponement, some fruit & vegetable importers have since called for the government to further reduce bureaucracy for importers. But still others, such as the British poultry industry, want the government to impose checks on EU-sourced goods and have argued their absence gives EU-based rivals a competitive advantage due to UK food facing checks upon entry to the bloc.