Flu scare: Spare the pigs, says world farm trade agency

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Apr 30 2009 10:49 PM | Updated as of May 01 2009 06:49 AM

PARIS - The world's paramount agency in the trade of farm animals on Thursday said culling pigs in the belief this would stop the spread of so-called swine flu was a mistake.

In a statement issued after Egypt declared it would slaughter all pigs in the country, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said culling "will not help to guard against public or animal health risks presented by this novel A/H1N1 influenza virus."

"Such action is inappropriate," it said.

"Scientific information currently available to the OIE and partner organisations indicates that this novel A/H1N1 influenza virus is being transmitted amongst humans," the OIE said.

"There is no evidence of infection in pigs, nor of humans acquiring infection directly from pigs."

The OIE added that gene sequencing of the virus showed the pathogen's mix had originated among birds and humans as well as hogs.

And, it said, there was no evidence that people were at risk from eating pork.

The Paris-based veterinary watchdog said it "strongly counsels" its 174 members against culling.

"Instead, members should focus their efforts on appropriate disease surveillance and strengthening the general biosecurity measures applied at premises where pigs are handled and slaughtered."

OIE Director General Bernard Vallat told AFP: "In the light of current information, it is completely unjustified to slaughter any animal in the aim of preventing or curbing this crisis.

"Right now, no-one has been able to establish the slightest link between a sick animal and an infected human."

He added that the culling had to take place in clean and humane conditions to ensure hygiene and avoid animal suffering, and farmers had to be compensated.

Egyptian Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali on Wednesday said the country would immediately begin the slaughter of all pig herds as a precaution against the novel flu strain.

But on Thursday, health ministry spokesman Abdelrahman Shahine told AFP that the cull was a general health measure.

"The authorities took advantage of the situation to resolve the question of disorderly pig rearing," he said.

The agriculture ministry's head of infectious diseases Saber Abdel Aziz Galal added that many pigs in Egypt "live with dogs, cats, rats, poultry and humans, all in the same area with rubbish.

"We will build new farms in special areas, like in Europe. Within two years the pigs will return, but we need first to build new farms."

According to the Egyptian agriculture ministry, there are 250,000 pigs in the country, belonging to and eaten by members of the Coptic Christian minority.

Egypt has been one of the countries most affected by the much-feared H5N1 strain of avian influenza, recording a death toll of 26 from that disease.