On Thursday, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Biosecurity and chief veterinary officer witnessed firsthand the efforts at Heathrow Airport to ensure the UK remains free of African swine fever. The operation was focused on passenger arrivals directly from Southeast Asian countries where ASF is prevalent.
UK border officials enforce controls at the border on illegal meat by using sniffer dogs and searching freight, passengers and luggage. They will seize and destroy illegally imported meat products. This is because ASF is highly contagious and the virus can survive in pork meat products, even if cooked or frozen.
“It is essential that we keep African swine fever out of the UK and I would like to thank Border Force colleagues for taking the time this morning to show us all they do to prevent infected pork meat products arriving on our shores,” says Lord John Gardiner, Minister for Biosecurity. “While there has never been an outbreak of African swine fever in the UK, we are not complacent and already have robust measures in place to protect against animal disease outbreaks.”
The disease, which poses no threat to human health but is fatal for pigs, has already spread widely across Asia – including China and Vietnam – and parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Cases have also been reported throughout Sub Saharan Africa.
ASF has led to the deaths of over 800,000 pigs and wild boar in Europe and an estimated four million pigs in Asia, causing global pork prices to rise. If the disease was found in the country, it could have a devastating impact on the UK’s commercial pig stock of five million pigs, as well as the trade of pork products.
“This morning I witnessed first-hand Border Force’s great work to ensure the UK remains ASF-free. However, we all have a role to play and it is crucial that anyone traveling from affected regions doesn’t bring pork meat products into the UK,” says Christine Middlemiss, UK chief veterinary officer.
In July, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched a new campaign, working closely with the Devolved Administrations, at the UK’s border to help keep the damaging animal disease out of the country. They have also written to universities to ask them to contact international students about not bringing in meat products when they come to the UK to study.