Frozen, raw, and uncooked meat products marked clearly as suitable only for sale in their originating EU country were found in retail shops in the UK following recent routine inspections by local authorities.

Further investigations found that these products had been purchased by two importers, linked to over 280 retail outlets in the UK.

The products were exported commercially and properly pre-notified on the UK imports system.

The UK government shared this information in a case study as part of its draft Border Target Operating Model, which sets out a model for border control when importing goods going forward, post-Brexit.

It said that although the products didn’t test positive for African swine fever (ASF), the fact that they reached the UK presents “a serious and immediate threat to the UK pig industry”.

“An outbreak of ASF would be a fundamental threat to the viability of our pig industry,” it said.

‘Unacceptable risk’

The National Pig Association (NPA) has said it is “shocked and concerned” by the government’s “admission on import control lapses” – but “not altogether surprised”.

“We have been saying for a number of years now that the government’s refusal to impose proper checks on EU meat imports poses a massive and unacceptable risk to the UK pork sector,” NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson said.

“This is clear proof of that, as set out by the government, which has admitted that this lack of controls means meat that has not been properly inspected and could, therefore, spark a devastating ASF outbreak in the UK has potentially been sold in numerous retail outlets in this country. 

“This will be hugely concerning to all pig producers, whose livelihoods are threatened by this virus. We will be seeking assurances that the government will be taking steps to tighten up its controls, until the new system is fully in place in October 2024.”

Wilson said the NPA will also raise the issue with the National Food Crime Unit.

Imported meat

In the case study, the government said that these goods would not have made it to the UK if sanitary and phytosanitary controls had been in place, “because they would not have been certified for export by a veterinarian in the originating country”.

The new Border Target Operating Model proposes a new approach to sanitary and phytosanitary controls and will be implemented across three milestones between the end of October 2023 and October 31, 2024.

The modelling document is currently in draft form, to allow stakeholders to comment on the proposals before May 15. The final version will then be published in May or early June.