Vet chief’s warning on swine flu threat after import checks scrapped

Vet chief’s warning on swine flu threat after import checks scrapped

The British Veterinary Association has hit out at the government’s decision to scrap new import checks on animals and animal products coming into the UK, warning of the risks of letting in devastating diseases.

It comes after Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg revealed no further import controls on EU goods will be introduced this year, with a new regime of import controls instead planned for the end of next year.

However, BVA senior vice-president James Russel said: “This move flies in the face not only of common sense, but also of the government’s commitment to preserving high levels of animal and human health in the UK.

“Diseases such as African swine fever have already had a catastrophic impact on agriculture and animal health in parts of Europe and elsewhere globally.

“With the UK now being outside the EU’s integrated and highly responsive surveillance systems, we have repeatedly warned that delaying veterinary checks further could weaken vital lines of defence against future incursions.

“To remove the requirement for checks entirely appears deeply misguided; we urge the government to abandon these plans and close off the threat of causing significant damage to our food and farming industries.

“If not, the government must urgently set out how it will safeguard animal health and welfare in the UK in the coming months.”

The Cabinet Office said it could not comment on swine fever or the veterinary sector, but said: “The controls introduced in January 2021 on the highest risk imports of animals, animal products, plants and plant products will continue to apply alongside the customs controls which have already been introduced.”

African sine flu is highly contagious and there is no vaccine. It has devastated family-run pig farms in China, wider Asia and even parts of Europe with outbreaks detected in Italy, Germany, Greece and Ukraine.

So far, the UK has stayed free of the disease, but the government has issued warnings for anyone travelling to affected countries.

The World Organisation for Animal Health has described African swine fever as “a major crisis for the pork industry” that is having “detrimental impacts on biodiversity and the livelihoods of farmers”.