Swine fever fears sparks plea for EU pork imports ban

Farm leaders have called for an immediate ban on imports of pork from EU countries with confirmed cases of African swine fever (ASF) amid an increasing number of cases.

NFU Scotland (NFUS) has written to the UK government urging it to stop imports of pork from entering the country from EU countries with confirmed outbreaks of ASF.

The union said the disease – which has up to 100% mortality rate, with no vaccine available – is currently spreading across Germany, and has also been found in Belgium, Romania and Poland.

See also: African swine fever threat: What farmers need to know

The UK pig sector is currently battling its own crisis due to labour shortages in abattoirs, which has left a backlog of more than 100,000 pigs on farms.

Without action, the risk of ASF entering the UK remains high and, if it does, it has the potential to devastate the domestic pig sector, said NFUS president Martin Kennedy.

“Since January 2021, no checks have been carried out on EU pork imports to the UK,” wrote Mr Kennedy in a letter sent to Defra secretary George Eustice, voicing the concerns of union members.

Biosecurity risk

“At a time when there is a serious biosecurity risk to our country, this can’t be allowed to continue.

“ASF is moving fast across Europe and we have had reports that the situation is worsening. It is spreading across Germany, is in Belgium, Romania, Poland, and is now not far from France.”  

He added that the UK government had taken no action to address concerns about breaking compliance with the Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

“We have been told that action would be permitted if Europe is having difficulties in controlling disease outbreaks. Following discussions with European colleagues, this is clearly now the case”. 

About 40% of the meat consumed in the UK, is pork and the economic output of pig farmers in Scotland is “significant”, said Mr Kennedy. But unless action is taken soon, the serious risk of ASF entering the UK remains, he warned.

Workers delayed

The government has made 800 temporary visas available for skilled butchers to come and work in the UK to help process pigmeat and clear the backlog of pigs on farms.

However, in an interview with The House, Mr Eustice confirmed that the number of new recruits arriving in the UK this month was set to be in the low hundreds, with most arriving in 2022.

The Defra secretary said he expects the market to rebalance in late spring at the earliest, insisting that the government had made it clear that “this was never going to be a fix”.