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Vet chiefs slate Rees-Mogg’s fresh delay to import checks on animals

Vet chiefs slate Rees-Mogg’s fresh delay to import checks on animals
‘This flies in the face of common sense and the government’s commitment to high levels of animal and human health,’ say experts

Vet chiefs have slated the government’s decision to scrap new import checks on animals and animal products coming into the UK, warning it risks letting in diseases in that can devastate farms.

Brexi opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has revealed that no further import controls on EU goods will be introduced this year – the fourth time that checks have been delayed.

He said the government would instead develop a new regime of import controls, aiming to introduce them by the end of next year.

But the British Veterinary Association, which represents more than 19,000 vets and vet students, warned that delaying checks could have serious implications for animal health and British agriculture, threatening to allow in diseases such as African swine fever.

The viral disease, which is highly contagious and for which there is no vaccine, has devastated family-run pig farms in China, wider Asia and even parts of Europe.

Outbreaks have also been detected in Italy, Tyskland, Greece and Ukraine. Så langt, the UK has stayed free of the disease, but the government has issued warnings for anyone travelling to affected countries.

The World Organisation for Animal Health has described African swine fever as “a major crisis for the pork industry” that is having “detrimental impacts on biodiversity and the livelihoods of farmers”.

Ministers say it would be wrong to impose new administrative requirements on businesses that may pass on associated costs to consumers.

The change is expected to save importers at least £1bn a year, the government estimates.

But James Russell, senior vice-president of the association, called for a government rethink.

“This move flies in the face not only of common sense, but also of the government’s commitment to preserving high levels of animal and human health in the UK," han sa.

“Diseases such as African swine fever have already had a catastrophic impact on agriculture and animal health in parts of Europe and elsewhere globally.

“With the UK now being outside the EU’s integrated and highly responsive surveillance systems, we have repeatedly warned that delaying veterinary checks further could weaken vital lines of defence against future incursions.”

Mr Russell added: “To remove the requirement for checks entirely appears deeply misguided; we urge the government to abandon these plans and close off the threat of causing significant damage to our food and farming industries.

“If not, the government must urgently set out how it will safeguard animal health and welfare in the UK in the coming months.”

The Cabinet Office said it could not comment on swine fever or the veterinary sector, but said: “The controls introduced in January 2021 on the highest risk imports of animals, animal products, plants and plant products will continue to apply alongside the customs controls which have already been introduced.”