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Finnish Customs steps up vigilance over African swine fever fears

Customs said that the disease could cause losses amounting to tens of millions of euros in the domestic pork industry.

Ruokakoira Rico
Customs' first food sniffer dog, Aino, began working one year ago. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

Finnish Customs said on Tuesday that it is stepping up efforts to detect African swine fever or ASF at Helsinki Airport. The agency noted that the disease had spread to Asia in recent years and that passenger numbers from the region to Finland have increased over the same interval.

"Customs expects to seize increased quantities of food items with the addition of a new sniffer dog at the airport," Customs monitoring head Mikko Grönberg said in a press release.

The agency said that if the disease infected animals in Finland it could cause tens of millions of euros in losses in the pork and meat industries.

African swine fever is a highly contagious haemorrhagic viral disease, that is deadly for pigs and for which there is no known treatment or vaccine. The disease cannot be transmitted to humans.

Story continues after photo.

Labradorinnoutaja Rico ohjaajansa tullitarkastaja Kimmo Lindenin sylissä.
Rico recently began his training and will become a full-fledged sniffer officer next summer. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

Customs said that it is training the new canine member of staff, Rico, to detect animal-based food products that airport passengers may have in their luggage.

Rico will also be occasionally be deployed to harbours in the Helsinki region to check passengers' bags for items such as wild boar meat. The young pup will not complete his training until next summer, when he will begin formal work as a full member of the team. Finland's first food sniffer dog, Aino, took up her career one year ago.

So far the virus has not been detected in Finland, but it can be spread in foodstuffs. Agriculture and Forestry Minister Jari Leppä described the current global spread of the disease and its impact on pig farming as worrying.

"We are each responsible for ensuring that we do not bring meat [back] with us so we don't accidentally spread animal diseases with it," Leppä noted in the Customs statement.

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