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Brexit crisis: Vets warn delay to EU import checks could 'open door to African Swine Fever


A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that the Government is keeping under review plans to introduce remaining post-Brexit import controls in July. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is warning that delaying checks could have serious consequences for the country’s biosecurity.

The Government is mulling another delay due to increasing alarm the checks will add to the growing cost of living crisis. There are estimates the checks will add £1 billion to the costs of cross-Channel trade.

But the BVA’s senior vice-president, James Russell, highlighted the importance of checks on live animals and animal products with Parliament’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

He said: “If this extension is allowed to go ahead, it will be the fourth delay and open the door even further to the potential incursion of African swine fever, which is spreading rapidly and has already had a catastrophic impact on animal health and agricultural industry in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa.

“Official veterinarians working at the border act as the country’s first line of defence of biosecurity, and we feel it would be deeply misguided to push back the need for these vital checks even further, and in so doing weaken this layer of protection for both animal and public health.”

Mr Russell said the BVA has also made the point that the veterinary profession needs certainty and a clear timetable to work towards instead of “yet more shifting timeframes”.

He said: “Given the ongoing capacity challenges in the workforce, it’s really important that we can prepare and allocate resource where it’s most needed.”

In February, data released by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) showed the annual number of vets coming to work in the UK fell by 68 percent from 1,132 in 2019 to just 364 in 2021.

The BVA attributed the drop in part to the end of free movement and the impact of the pandemic.

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It warned the shortage could result in direct and knock-on impacts in international trade and public health.

Separate statistics have shown how demand for veterinary certification of animal products for export to the EU rocketed in the face of new post-Brexit requirements.

Data from the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency suggested last month that applications for food-related export health certificates spiralled by 1,255 percent from 2020 (22,990) to the end of 2021 (288,558).

According to the BVA, the UK’s veterinary workforce is “highly reliant” on EU registrants, with 2021 RCVS data showing that 29 percent of the total existing workforce graduated in the European Union.

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Mr Russell said last month: “The nosedive in EU registrants since Brexit coupled with soaring demand for veterinary certification is creating a storm of shortages in the profession.

“It’s absolutely critical that vets get as much support as possible to keep on top of workloads and navigate continued challenges ahead.

“The potential consequences are worrying. If we can’t find long-term solutions to veterinary workforce shortages we will see impacts on animal welfare, public health, and international trade.”

African swine fever itself has led to “massive” losses in pig populations and “drastic” economic consequences, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has said.

It says the viral disease has become a major crisis for the pork industry, affecting several regions around the world.

There is no effective vaccine for ASF which the OIE says not only affects animal health and welfare, but also has “detrimental” impacts on biodiversity and farmers’ livelihoods.

It is not a danger to human health, but can be spread by people.

ASF was first reported in the European Union in 2014 with numerous EU countries affected since. Belgium and the Czech Republic have managed to eradicate the disease after recent outbreaks.

Since 2005 the disease has been reported in 32 African countries. It was confirmed in the Caucasus region of Georgia in 2007 from where it spread to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Belarus.

ASF has been detected in five different regions of the world since January 2020, affecting more than 1,000,000 pigs and more than 28,000 wild boars with more than 1,500,000 animal losses, according to the OIE.



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