While the nation celebrates the sporting success of its Winter Olympians, concerns are being raised that events taking place in Sochi are inadvertently threatening the domestic pig industry.
African swine fever has been causing devastating problems in Eastern European pig farms and the disease has now migrated from Russia to the Ukraine, Belarus and, most recently, across the European Union border into Lithuania.
With the Russian pig industry one of the hardest hit by the disease, there are fears that British nationals returning from viewing the Games could unwittingly bring the disease on to British shores.
While the disease poses no threat to humans, infected pigs suffer from abortion, vomiting, diarrhoea and ultimately death. It is highly contagious and can be spread among pigs by direct animal-to-animal contact, animals coming into contact with infected faeces and via the consumption of infected meat products.
African swine fever can survive for months within raw, cooked or even frozen pork products.
As such, with a growing number of people visiting Russia for the Winter Olympics, the National Pig Association (NPA) has voiced fears that returning visitors could buy pork products from Russian shops, bring them back home to the UK and then somehow the meat could accidently end up in the pig feed chain.
The seriousness of the situation was highlighted over the weekend, when another case of African swine fever was reported on a pig farm in the Tula region of Russia, the meat from which has already been supplied to five regions in Russia and may now be in the shops of several Russian cities.
Although the chances of infected pig meat entering the British feed chain are slight, just one infected animal could have far-reaching and dramatic consequences to the British pig industry.
As a notifiable disease, such an outbreak in Britain would necessitate wholescale culling of animals and the closure of pig exports at a time when lucrative export markets, especially those with China, are staring to grow significantly.
NPA chairman Richard Longthorp said: “An outbreak of African swine fever in Britain would represent a blow from which some would not recover.
“We, that is the pig industry and government, must do all we can to ensure this or any other exotic disease, does not spread to the United Kingdom. The loss of exports valued at £350m would be devastating to the pig industry, a loss to United Kingdom trade and would undermine all the great work that the pig industry and Defra have put into developing export markets for British pork and high-performance breeding pigs.”
Currently, one quarter of British pig farmers’ income is derived from exports and, with farmers only just starting to recover from the damage caused by high feed prices during 2012, the NPA is urging for people to be extra cautious.
The severity of the situation is being recognised at a governmental level and Food and Farm Minister George Eustice has assured the NPA that if the disease continues to spread westwards through mainland Europe, EU officials at Brussels will introduce extra controls to check its progress.
Meanwhile Defra will work with the UK Border Force to ensure that potentially contaminated meat does not enter British shores.
The NPA is also planning to contact major airlines operating in and out of Eastern Europe, with the hope of producing leaflets and flyers which can be distributed to passengers, making them aware of the potential dangers that purchased pork products could hold.