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Pig farmers fear a no-deal Brexit could increase animal disease threat

PUBLISHED: 07:54 26 October 2018 | UPDATED: 07:54 26 October 2018

Pigs at a Norfolk farm. Picture: Ian Burt

Pigs at a Norfolk farm. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2017

Livestock farmers fear a “no deal” Brexit could compromise the UK’s biosecurity and make it easier for devastating animal diseases to be imported into this country.

In a report published this week, the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, warned it was unlikely that the UK would have an effective system in place by March 2019 to replace the EU structure of regulation, intelligence gathering and disease alerts.

That could put British farming at increased risk of disease outbreaks, it said.

One of the groups which gave evidence was the National Pig Association (NPA), representing an industry which is already on red alert after a rapidly-spreading outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) reached Belgium in September.

The disease does not affect humans but could have a potentially devastating impact on the pig industry – particularly in Norfolk and Suffolk, where about 25pc of the nation’s pig herd is reared.

The NPA submission stated: “There is a risk that the uncertainty brought about by Brexit would make an easy opportunity for disease to be imported.

“This could come as a result of fewer resources being put into disease surveillance and border control, less communication with European partners in surveillance activity, or a wilful dilution of standards in imported products.”

NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford pointed out that the British pig industry has suffered from two devastating notifiable disease outbreaks in the past, classical swine fever in 2000 and foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, which cost the UK government an estimated £8bn.

“The UK pig sector has worked exceptionally hard to maintain its notifiable disease free status and so must be assured that our ability to protect the health of the national herd will not be weakened by Brexit,” she said.

“The most likely route of entry for the virus is infected meat brought into the country through our ports or airports – one lapse could cause devastation across the UK pig sector.

“If ASF got into our herd, it could result in the slaughter of thousands of pigs, effectively bring the pig sector to a standstill for months, cut off our burgeoning export market overnight, worth nearly £300m in 2017 and cause major disruption in the countryside.

“We understand the pressures associated with a no deal, but want to stress in the strongest possible terms that it is absolutely essential that the government does not take any shortcuts with surveillance and border checks, whenever we leave the EU. The stakes are too high”

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