Recent months have seen customs officials at Northern Ireland’s airports seize meat products in visitors’ luggage, some of which was found to contain traces of African Swine Fever DNA.
But according to Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Chief Veterinary Officer Robert Huey, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
“There is every possibility that significant quantities of infected pork products are coming in to the UK at the present time. Every effort must be made to keep epizootic diseases, such as African Swine Fever out of Northern Ireland.”
Huey made these comments while speaking at this week’s British Veterinary Association annual dinner in Northern Ireland.
He continued: “Farming and food in Northern Ireland must export to survive. And we will only succeed in this by maintaining the highest levels of biosecurity on our farms.
“Our island status on the western seaboard of Europe gives us a tremendous advantage, where this matter is concerned. But we cannot be complacent. Infected food imports represent a tremendous risk for our entire farming and food sector.”
Huey referred to the carnage already caused by the current African Swine Fever outbreak in China.
He added: “It s likely that the Chinese authorities will have to cull the equivalent of one quarter of the world’s total pig population in order to get on top of the problem.”
BVA President Daniella Dos Santos also referred to this issue, courtesy of her speech to the 80 guests attending the dinner.
She said: “I’d like to pay special tribute to the team efforts at airports in Northern Ireland that seized 300kg of illegally imported meat and dairy products in passenger luggage in June alone, samples of which contained traces of African Swine Fever DNA. It’s really reassuring to see that government vets and inspectors are united in their vigilance to prevent the incursion of this deadly disease.
“With African Swine Fever posing a significant and growing threat to animal welfare and agriculture throughout all parts of the UK, it’s inherent on us all to make every effort to curb its spread and raise public awareness of the risks of bringing animal products that may be carrying the disease into the country.”
Turning to the issue of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), Dos Santos highlighted the positive impact of the recent World Antibiotic Awareness Week.
She added: “So I can think of no better time to celebrate the sterling joined-up work that has gone into meeting the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture. reduction targets well ahead of schedule.
“AMR is a One Health issue. It has been heartening to see the Northern Ireland Chief Medical Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer joining forces to help tackle the threat of antimicrobial resistance at both practice and policy level.
“I applaud everyone who has worked hard to reduce the risk of AMR and protect our antibiotics for future generations.”
Referring to Brexit Dos Santos said that the BVA’s number one ask is for politicians to reject a no-deal scenario.
She continued: “While 31 October may have now passed without the planned event, there is no room for complacency about the very real risks that a no-deal could still present if it remains on the table as we approach the new deadline and the likely political upheaval in between.
“We are particularly concerned about how a no-deal Brexit will impact on Northern Ireland, given its large agri-food sector and steady flow of goods to and from both sides of the border.
“The demand for certification of animals and animal products in Northern Ireland is likely to spiral far beyond the rise predicted in the rest of the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit. And composite products such as pizzas, sandwiches and ready meals would massively ramp up the volume of certificates required as they would need a separate sign-off for each animal product they contain, whether it’s cheese, egg, chicken or chorizo.”