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‘UK border controls are woeful’ – QMS highlights actions Scotland is taking to address growing ASF threat – Pig World

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Industry leaders in Scotland have expressed concern about the very real risk of an African swine fever (ASF) outbreak as a result of the UK Government’s ‘woeful’ approach to import controls. 

Andy McGowan, a Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) board member and chief executive of Scottish Pig Producers, has higlighted the steps QMS is taking to prevent an outbreak in the face of this threat, including via wild boar and feral pigs.

“Border controls in the UK are woeful,” he said. “Having been delayed for seven years due to Brexit, veterinary certificates are now required for commercial imports, but they aren’t being checked. Unlike Europe, the UK still permits individuals to bring in up to 2kg of pork products for personal consumption. That is being tested and positive results show some does contain viable ASF,” he said. 

Mr McGowan recently attended the global consultation on ASF control organised by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in Rome, which he said highlighted the urgent need for proactive measures, citing the devastating impact ASF has had on pig populations worldwide.

“Having directly and indirectly killed a quarter of the world’s pig population, ASF is the biggest animal disease outbreak ever recorded and poses a very real threat to Scotland’s pig industry,” he said. “Our goal is to keep it out of the country, but we are also preparing for the possibility of an outbreak and working on contingency plans to minimise its impact.”

He expressed deep concerns over existing regulations that could potentially allow the virus to enter the UK and stressed the need for stricter measures to prevent the introduction of ASF through commercial and personal imports of pork products.

“Across the world we’ve seen this virus spread primarily through wild boar accessing infected food products. It is essential that we minimise the likelihood that the wild boar and feral pigs in Scotland encounter contaminated food,” he added.

Feral pig focus

Research indicates that the chances of ASF spreading from one infected pig farm to another is around 0.2% while the risk of an infected wild boar or feral pig spreading the disease to an outdoor farm is closer to 50%.

Alongside preventative actions, the global consultation highlighted the importance of a swift and effective response in case of an outbreak. Mr McGowan stressed the need for a coordinated approach plan involving testing, culling, and movement controls – beyond those already in place through ASF being a notifiable disease.

“Often the secondary impact of a disease outbreak is greater than the primary,” he said. “With foot and mouth, for example, 80% of the financial losses were through the tourism sector and wider rural economy. While I don’t think an outbreak of ASF would have the same impact on tourism businesses, the knock-on effects for the supply chain and other producers in the rest of the UK would be significant.”

QMS has also taken proactive steps at the domestic level, including the formation of a ‘Feral Pig Working Group’, bringing together land management agencies, Scottish Gamekeepers Association, deer management groups, forestry national parks and NatureScot, to address the threat posed by feral pigs as potential vectors for ASF.

“Scotland has wild boar, wild pigs and feral pigs located around the West coast, notable areas include Fort William and the Northwest Highlands as well as the Monadhliath mountains and Dumfries and Galloway,” said Bruce McConachie, Head of Industry Development at QMS.

“Members of the Feral Pig Working Group already do a good job of mapping and controlling populations of wild and feral pigs,” he says. “We understand the population dynamics and how they move across the landscape but currently the focus is the damage they can do to ground nesting and rare birds. There is more we can learn when we consider populations through the lens of controlling ASF.”

“Through collaboration, we aim to enhance our understanding of feral pig populations and their role in disease transmission,” he continues.

Lax implementation

NFU Scotland Vice President Andrew Connon was also highly critical of the Government’s approach to import controls.

“The UK Government’s record on introducing effective post-Brexit border controls that protect farmers and crofters from highly damaging plant and animal diseases has, to date, been woeful,” he said. “It has seen numerous false starts and delays over several years, all of which have left farmers and crofters exposed to hugely destructive diseases such as ASF, a which has the potential to wipe out the Scottish pig industry.

He highlighted reports that, even as the second phase of the UK Government’s Border Target Operating Model commenced from April 30, the level of checks required is not yet being undertaken, with some reports suggesting that shipments are being admitted even when incorrect paperwork has been provided.

“That is in stark contrast to the hoops and delays that UK food exporters faced getting goods into Europe in the early days of Brexit,” he said.

“Lax implementation of import controls means our producers are continuing to be exposed to unacceptable levels of risk. This Government must step up to the plate immediately to address any border control failings and report back to industry on implementation of the latest phase. It must give the health of our plants and animals the protection they deserve.

“As well as ensuring Border checks on legitimate imports from the EU through control points are appropriate, it is clear that additional resource to target illegal imports through other ports must be found, s these often present the greatest risk.”

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