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Defra to issue ASF warnings at UK airports

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By Josh Loeb

Defra is stepping up efforts to protect the UK from African swine fever (ASF).

The department is poised to launch a major new poster campaign at airports, ports and train stations to warn international passengers about the risk of ASF being unintentionally introduced into the UK via pork products brought in from affected countries.

The posters will aim to warn passengers arriving from all ASF-affected countries – including China, Russia, Romania and Poland – about the dangers.

The move follows warnings from some senior UK vets that the government has not been sufficiently proactive in protecting the UK from ASF.

National Pig Association (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies said individuals at Defra had been put under pressure during meetings with the pig industry about their apparent lack of urgency.

However, she welcomed what she described as a fresh ‘escalation’ of the issue up the government’s ‘risk pyramid’.

Alongside the poster campaign, it is understood that passengers arriving on flights from China into one of the UK’s major airports will be targeted by UK Border Force officials with sniffer dogs in a new trial aimed at intercepting pork products and testing them.

Just one infected ham sandwich could cause havoc

Julia James, senior partner and head of the pig team at Larkmead Vets, also welcomed the intervention and underlined its importance. ‘Just one infected ham sandwich could cause havoc,’ she said.

‘It would be wonderful to land at a UK airport and to see big posters that make it very clear that bringing in pork products [from ASF-affected countries] is a great risk to the UK pork industry.’

The most likely cause of an ASF outbreak in the UK would be via pigs eating infected pork. Defra has assessed this incursion risk as ‘likely’ – at around 20 per cent – in its latest risk assessment (November 2018).

Pigs infected with African swine fever can present with reddening of the skin, particularly the ears

Richard Pearson, president of the Pig Veterinary Society, explained: ‘Anything that can be done to reduce the risk of infected pork entering the UK should be supported – in particular, raising the awareness of people travelling from ASF-infected areas and increased border controls.’

ASF can survive for months to years in smoked, dried, cured and frozen meat. A major worry for Defra is the risk of people travelling around Europe carrying artisanal meat products made from hunted wild boar or traditional salami produced using meat from backyard pigs slaughtered outside of approved abattoir premises – a practice that is part of the culture in some parts of eastern Europe.

One Defra insider told Vet Record the department was regularly testing ‘robust’ contingency plans for any UK outbreak, adding: ‘We do understand the urgency of the situation.’

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