African swine fever poses threat to national herd

A call for an immediate ban on imports of pork due to the health threats posed to the national herd by the growing number of cases of African swine fever (ASF) in Europe was issued yesterday.

African swine fever threat
African swine fever threat

NFU Scotland has written to the UK Government calling for immediate action to stop imports of pork from countries with confirmed cases of ASF, claiming that had the situation been reversed, exports of British pork to the continent would have been halted many weeks ago

The union said that the pig disease – which can inflict up to 100 per cent mortality and for which there is no vaccine – has been spreading across Germany and has also been found in Belgium, Romania and Poland.

“Without action, the risk of ASF entering the UK remains high and if it does it has the economically important potential to devastate the domestic pig sector,” warned union president, Martin Kennedy.

“Since January 2021, no checks have been carried out on EU pork imports to the UK,” he said.

Ane he added that the UK Government had taken no action to date due to concerns about breaking compliance with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

“We have been told that action would be permitted if Europe is having difficulties in controlling disease outbreaks,” said Kennedy.

“Following discussions with European colleagues, this is clearly now the case”.

Urging that immediate action is taken to stop the disease reaching UK shores, Kennedy said that allowing the disease to enter the country would further devastate the pig sector.

It was already suffering crippling financial losses due to the lack of butchers who were able to process supplies of pork, creating a logjam in the system which had resulted in thousands of pigs being backed up on farms, with culls taking place to reduce numbers

A political journal yesterday revealed that only a small proportion of the overseas butchers recruited under the much publicised temporary visa scheme would actually arrive before Christmas.

In an interview with “The House”, UK Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed that the number of abattoir workers expected to arrive in the UK this month was likely to be in "the low one hundreds," with most recruits arriving in 2022.

However, while the reputed 800 visas were ostensibly made available to help tackle the crisis in the pig sector, Eustice said the rush to make sure there are enough turkeys on supermarket shelves this Christmas had taken priority over other types of butcher.

He said around 2000 poultry processors were recruited under a seperate temporary visa scheme which expires at the end of the year.

"The scheme operators, for obvious reasons, are focused on the poultry sector and getting people over to the UK to do the turkey season first, as that's right at its peak now," said Eustice.

He said that he expected the market to rebalance in late spring at the earliest, insisting that the government had made it clear all along that there was never going to be a “quick fix” for the sector.

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