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Is Europe doing enough to tackle ASF?

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By Josh Loeb

Support is growing for introducing a UK-wide ban on all pig products originating from countries affected by ASF – including those in the EU.

The National Pig Association (NPA) has said it supports UK pig farmers’ calls for an all-out ban.

‘As a trade association representing the British pig industry we would dearly love to keep pork products from affected countries out,’ the NPA told Vet Record, ‘but EU rules on trade mean legally we cannot stop it.’

A core part of the bloc’s ‘regionalisation’ approach entails shutting down the pig meat trade from particular areas within affected EU countries, rather than stopping the trade from such countries wholesale.

‘Restricted’ areas within affected EU countries are categorised using several different tiers, ranging from the least serious (stage 1) to the most serious (stage 4), when the disease is considered ‘endemic’.

Currently only Sardinia is at stage 4 – prompting the European Commission to entirely shut down trade from that island.

Large parts of Romania, and comparatively smaller areas of Poland, are at stage 3, with some trade restrictions imposed on the relevant areas of those countries. No UK territory is at any of the four stages.

The effectiveness of the EU approach is a matter of debate, with some countries, such as China, alleging that recurrent outbreaks and the way the virus has ‘jumped’ within the EU show that the approach is not working.

Last year Defra published a risk assessment which pointed out that restriction zones were in a constant state of flux, leading to confusion.

Two years ago, in a submission to the World Trade Organisation, China – which is currently struggling to contain its own string of ASF outbreaks – justified its decision to ban Polish pork on the basis that ‘despite Poland’s implementation of control measures it had not effectively blocked ASF from spreading’.

While ASF has not spread into Germany (Europe’s largest pork producer), NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said it could make its way there, since the virus can be spread by roaming herds of wild boar.

The British pig industry has arguably more to lose from an ASF outbreak than many of its EU competitors since it is more reliant on non-EU markets.

If there were to be an outbreak of ASF in the UK, much of that non-EU trade would likely cease, with many non-EU countries using the so-called ‘precautionary principle’ to block British pig meat.

A precedent for this was Australia banning the import of some types of pork products from Belgium, where there have been ASF outbreaks only in wild boar.

Under current rules, the UK cannot legally ban meat imports from other EU countries – unless it has reason to believe that the European Commission or a particular EU country has not fulfilled its obligations.

Likewise, EU member states would currently have the same power (or lack thereof) to limit UK imports if ASF reached the UK.

We are in a single market – and part of that single market is infected

One senior UK vet explained the political element of the problem, saying: ‘We are in a single market – and part of that single market is infected.’

ASF outbreaks have been recurring in the east of the EU for the past few years. The virus also ‘jumped’ to wild boar populations in Belgium. More than 55 countries and an estimated 77 per cent of the world’s pig population are currently affected by ASF.

Linda Dixon, a Pirbright Institute research scientist whose focus is on ASF, described as ‘absolutely disproportionate’ the decisions of some non-EU countries to ban imports of pork from affected EU member states.

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