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African swine fever traces found in Northern Ireland

Traces of the virus DNA were found in a sausage illegally imported from Asia – part of a 300kg haul seized by port authorities in June.

The National Pig Association has renewed its calls for robust action to keep African swine fever (ASF) at bay after traces of the virus were detected in illegally imported meat in Northern Ireland.

Meat and dairy products seized by Northern Ireland port authorities during June. Image © National Pig Association
Meat and dairy products seized by Northern Ireland port authorities during June. Image © National Pig Association

According to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), port authorities in Northern Ireland seized 300kg of illegal meat and dairy products brought in by passengers during June.

Disease free

A sample of these seizures was tested at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), resulting in the detection of ASF DNA fragments in a sausage from Asia.

The department said that while the discovery does not pose a significant threat to the animal health status of Northern Ireland, or affect its disease-free status from ASF, it reinforces the importance of the controls on personal imports of meat and dairy products enforced by DAERA officials.

Greatest risk

DAERA CVO Robert Huey warned it is illegal to bring certain food and plant products back into the country to avoid the risks of importing animal or plant disease.

He said: “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.”

Defra campaign

Defra has announced it will be stepping up ASF controls at ports and airports, including a new poster campaign targeting travellers from ASF-affected regions, with warnings about bringing meat products into the country.

The department has also been working with organisations to raise awareness among pig keepers and the general public about the risks of feeding pigs and feral boar with waste food, and among hauliers and others about the risks of spreading the virus via vehicles.

Vigilance ‘encouraging’

BVA president Simon Doherty said: “It’s very encouraging to see that Government vets and inspectors are united in their vigilance to prevent the incursion of this deadly disease.

“We are fortunate in Northern Ireland to have a surveillance facility like the AFBI that can carry out quick and effective testing, and continuous monitoring for disease risks.”