US curbs English pork imports as outbreak spreads

Swine fever: Americans impose controls on shipments of pig products while a suspected case in Cheshire suggests a new source of infection
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The Independent Online

The crisis in the pig industry, hit by an outbreak of swine fever, worsened yesterday when the United States joined Europe in imposing controls on English imports.

The crisis in the pig industry, hit by an outbreak of swine fever, worsened yesterday when the United States joined Europe in imposing controls on English imports.

The US Agriculture Department announced temporary controls on all pig products, including meat, as well as live imports. A spokeswoman said: "We are putting shipments coming in of live animals, semen or products, on a temporary hold. We will deal with those on a case-by-case basis, based on whatever additional information can be provided about that specific shipment."

Although the move does not represent an official ban but case-by-case inspection of imports, an insider at the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) said yesterday that the result could be the same.

In an echo of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy "mad cow" crisis, Maff officials met their European Union counterparts in Brussels yesterday to discuss the scale of the swine-fever outbreak and the ban on English produce.

Fears that attempts to contain the outbreak had failed were yesterday fuelled by reports that more suspected cases had been found outside the original East Anglian area. A possible outbreak at a Cheshire farm was particularly worrying as, unlike previous cases, it has no direct link with the original breeding unit. Tests have been done at the farm, near Macclesfield, and at a farm in Lincolnshire and one in Derbyshire that do have known links with the Norfolk source.

More than 12,000 pigs have been slaughtered over the past nine days at six farms in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex, including the original breeding unit.

Phil Saunders, spokesman for the Meat and Livestock Commission, said: "The situation has not changed. This is still an attempt to isolate the problem and the sooner it is done the better. If there is only a one-point source it will be easy to track through the records to see where the pigs have gone. That will make isolation easier."

The informal meetings in Brussels yesterday were designed to look for a way forward in offering protection for farmers in Britain and Europe.

The European Commission has banned live exports of pigs from England. The ban, in place until 31 August, also includes semen, but not meat. It will be reviewed by EU veterinary experts at a meeting of the Standing Veterinary Committee on 22 August.

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, said Nick Brown, Minister of Agriculture, should not let the Commission extend the ban to pork itself. "It is now imperative that Nick Brown pulls out all the stops to control the situation and to ensure that these temporary bans do not escalate into longer-term bans or bans on fresh British pork. Unless Nick Brown acts at once, hundreds of pig farming businesses are at risk," Mr Yeo said.

It is feared that the knock-on effect of such bans will hit farmers heavily, even if their herds are uncontaminated.

The Government has restricted the movement of pigs and other livestock that have come into contact with them from areas affected by the outbreak during the Commission's ban. Farmers must obtain a special licence to transport cows, sheep and other animals from "surveillance areas" that cover a radius of approximately 10km around infected farms.