Sunday 9/20/20

A new customs agent to combat African swine fever at Helsinki Airport

Labrador retriever Rico detector dog is assigned to find foods of animal origin brought in by flight passengers. Finnish Government describes this sickness as "a major threat" to the European pig-production sector and reminds it is forbidden for passengers to bring in meat, meat products, milk and milk products into the EU or to send them by post.
Labrador retriever Rico. Photo: © Finnish Government/Valtioneuvosto.
Labrador retriever Rico. Photo: © Finnish Government/Valtioneuvosto.

Finnish Government informed today that Finland wants to enhance combat against African swine fever by training a new customs dog to detect foodstuffs of animal origin at Helsinki Airport.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the new food detector dog will be placed at Helsinki Airport, because the African swine fever had spread to Asia in the last years and because a great number of passengers travel from Asia to Finland.

African swine fever was first detected in China’s northeast in July 2018 and since then it has spread wildly throughout most of China. The disease has also spread to China’s neighboring countries.

According to Finavia’s statistics, the number of passengers travelling to and from China via Finavia’s airports was almost 600,000 in 2018. That is around 12.5 per cent more than in 2017 and around 30 per cent more than in 2016.

Labrador retriever

The Labrador retriever Rico chosen as detector dog is assigned to find foods of animal origin brought in by flight passengers to Helsinki Airport. Furthermore, Rico works at the ports in the Helsinki region, searching for importers of wild boar meat in intra-EU traffic.

“With the new food detector dog we expect that Customs’ detention of foodstuffs will multiply at the airport”, says Customs Director of Enforcement Mikko Grönberg.

The spread of the African swine fever poses a great financial threat, amounting to several tens of millions of euros, to pig farming and the meat industry in Finland.

Travelers' important role

Finnish Ministry of Agriculture explained that travelers have an important role in the combating of African swine fever and other animal diseases, since the viruses can spread through foodstuffs, such as packed lunches and goods contaminated by them.

To enhance the control, Customs is building a comprehensive information system for the entire eastern border and most important airports, so that the cautionary information on animal diseases is distributed.

“The situation around the world is worrisome with the spreading of African swine fever, which causes great losses to the pig farming. Authorities in Finland are continuously cooperating to intensify the control of food imports by passengers, as well as providing more information and awareness regarding the issue. Each one of us has the responsibility to see to it that we don’t bring in any meat as gifts, so that we don’t -not even by mistake- spread any animal diseases with the foods” urges the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä.

1,000 kilos of illicit foods discovered

Rico’s handler is Customs Inspector Kimmo Linden. Linden has worked with different customs control tasks at the ports of Helsinki for 20 years. The food detector dog Rico, has started his basic training and begins his operative work in the summer of 2020.

Finland’s first food detector dog Aino, began working at the eastern border on 14 June 2018. Aino has fared well in her work with detecting illicit foodstuffs for example in passenger’s luggage. In May 2019, the food detector dog Aino had found 1.000 kilos of illicit foods.

A "major threat" to pig farms

Finnish Government described African swine fever as "a major threat to the Finnish and European pig-production sector". It is a serious African hemorrhagic disease that affects pigs and wild boars. The disease is deadly to pigs; there is no treatment or vaccine. The virus does not spread to humans.

The virus has not been found in Finland. However, it did happen for example in the eastern parts of Europe, in all Baltic countries and in neighboring countries to the east of the EU. The disease spreads from country to country through careless actions by humans and through animals.

Finnish authorities also remind it is forbidden through EU legislation for passengers to bring in meat, meat products, milk and milk products to the EU or to send them to private persons by post, because of the risk of spreading animal diseases.