July 6, 2022
UK urged to improve border controls, with ASF threat in horizon
The United Kingdom's National Pig Association (NPA) called on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take action to improve the country's border controls, as African swine fever (ASF) continues to spread in western Europe in an alarming way.
The decision by the UK government to abandon plans to introduce checks on EU food products coming into the UK on July has caused alarm across the farming sector, which is is only heightened within the pig sector by the seemingly worsening ASF situation in Europe, Pig World reported. Meanwhile, the industry's concerns about the UK's inadequate border controls have been reinforced by Food Standards Agency in a recent report.
Additionally, there have been some worrying developments in the spread of ASF in Europe in recent weeks, including three outbreaks in domestic pigs in different parts of Germany.
There has been growing concern within the UK farming sector since Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed in April that the government was abandoning plans to introduce checks on animals and animal products from the European Union on July 1. Instead, it will target the end of 2023 as the revised introduction date for a new digitised control regime. The decision also indefinitely delayed a requirement for documentation, such as health certificates, on EU imports and restrictions on imports of chilled meats from the EU.
Rees-Mogg claimed introducing the checks "would have been an act of self-harm," as businesses and individuals are hit by rising costs.
UK food exporters have faced additional checks, documentation requirements, disruption, delays and costs on the back of new rules on EU exports from the first day of Brexit on January 1, 2020.
In a letter to Boris Johnson, NPA chairman Rob Mutimer pointed out that, between January and August 2021, 300,000 Export Health Certificates were required to export British produce to the EU, costing £40 million (US$41 million) and taking up over 500,000 hours of veterinary resource.
"Yet, identical EU products are permitted to move the other way unhindered and at a lower cost, placing European businesses at a competitive advantage," Mutimer wrote. "Not only are we deliberately harming our own business interests, we are advertising an open border approach to anyone who would wish to avoid the customs duties, taxes and biosecurity checks which come with trading with a third country."
Mutimer also highlighted the spread of ASF in Europe, which, while predominantly spread by wild boar, can also result from the movement of contaminated meat products, "often being traded illegally from restricted zones where ASF outbreaks have occurred".
"If no biosecurity checks are taking place at UK borders to prevent and deter the illegal import of contaminated meats, we are leaving ourselves worryingly vulnerable to a catastrophe," he added. "While the government awaits the introduction of a new digital trading system, we ask that our borders be significantly better protected through more robust checks at all points of entry, including ports, airports and postal hubs."
He pointed out that a two-week multi-agency exercise in 2020 at Heathrow and Gatwick airports saw significant quantities of illegal meat imports seized, which appears to be "indicative of a far wider problem".
Concerns about the ability of the UK to police import standards were raised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in its annual review of UK food standards in June.
It warned that current systems in place were "not sufficient replacement for the introduction of robust import controls" and that the lack of document checks and physical inspections "means we are not receiving official assurance from the exporting country that those imports meet the UK's high food and feed safety standards".
"The longer the UK operates without assurance from the exporting country that products meet the UK's high food and feed safety standards, the less confident we can be that we can effectively identify potential safety incidents," FSA said. "It is vital that the UK has the ability to prevent entry of unsafe food and identify and respond to changing risks."
- Pig World