In excess of 300 kilograms of illegal meat and dairy products detected in passenger luggage have been seized by Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) portal officials at Northern Ireland’s airports during June 2019.
This alarming statistic came to light as the department issued its annual reminder to holidaymakers travelling abroad not to bring any animal or plant products back into Northern Ireland.
A sample of these seizures have been tested at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) resulting in the detection of ASF DNA fragments.
Whilst this type of discovery in itself does not pose a significant threat to the animal health status of Northern Ireland, nor does it affect the disease free status from ASF, it does reinforce the importance of the controls on personal imports of meat and dairy products enforced by DAERA officials.
Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Robert J Huey cautioned that it is illegal to bring certain food and plant products back into the country to avoid the risks of importing animal or plant disease.
The message is simple - ‘Don’t risk it - leave it behind’.
Dr. Huey said: “I make no excuses for repeating this message. The greatest risk is to our agri-food industry and our environment, as any introduction of pests, diseases and non-native species can have a potentially devastating impact. Ecosystems can be disrupted with significant knock-on effects on agriculture and the local economy.
“Imports of meat or meat products, milk and other dairy products are banned from most countries outside the EU. There are also strict controls on animal products that can be brought in from the EU. It is always advisable to check the rules before travel and refrain from bringing back animal products or plants that might be carrying pests or disease. Illegal products will be seized and destroyed. Furthermore anyone detected in possession of prohibited items risks prosecution and a fine. So please do not bring any of these products back to Northern Ireland.”
Diseases such as foot-and-mouth cause serious economic impacts and can be brought into Northern Ireland via infected products of animal origin. Animal-related products may also pose a risk to human health from diseases, residues or contaminants. Such diseases and pests can have a disastrous effect on livestock, crops or the environment.
There is currently a specific concern over the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF), which is largely attributed to pigs consuming contaminated pork or pork products. The risk to Northern Ireland has steadily increased due to the recent spread of ASF in Belgium, other European countries and South East Asia, including China.
Whilst there is no human health risk from this disease, it is easily transmitted in pork products. If ASF were to enter Northern Ireland it could have devastating effects, all exports of relevant agri-food products would be severely restricted, damaging the Northern Ireland economy and putting local jobs at risk. Meat and dairy products should not be brought into Northern Ireland in passenger’s luggage; such items may be seized by Portal Inspection Branch staff at local ports and airports.
Dr Huey’s message was endorsed by Jim Crummie, Director of Plant Health at DAERA, who added: “As well as animal products, fruit and vegetables may also carry pests that can infect plants. We are asking people not to bring plants, seeds or plant products back from their holidays. An attractive flower or some seeds may seem like an innocent souvenir or present but, unknowingly, pests and diseases can be present. There is also a risk that non-native species may be introduced that can have potentially catastrophic consequences on agriculture, horticulture, forestry and the environment if unchecked.”