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Although EU veterinary experts do not see any justification for the restrictions on trade in pigs imposed by many countries around the world, they are nevertheless convinced that pig farmers in the Union must take precautions against viral infections. The discovery in Canada of a case of transmission of the new flu virus A/H1N1 from man to pigs "does not call into question the declarations on the absence of risk related to the consumption of pork," noted the experts in a written declaration, made public on 5 May. However, "the role of pigs in the H1N1 flu epidemic has not yet been clarified and still has to be studied by the scientific community".

At this stage, and in spite of these uncertainties, restrictions on trade in these animals "are not justified," they note. The usual precautionary measures - biosecurity and hygiene rules - must be applied scrupulously to protect against contamination by the virus in farms through movements of people, vehicles or any other material.

For Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech, "transmission from man to animal should not be a surprise". He points out that viruses undergo constant genetic mutations, which requires increased surveillance of respiratory diseases and similar syndromes in pigs.

The World Health Organisation now considers it "essential" to add swine flu to the list of epizootic diseases that must be reported. Currently considered "benign," this disease "slips through the safety net put in place by animal health authorities," regretted the organisation's Director for Food Safety, Peter Ben Embarek. He added in an implicit criticism of the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) that instead of being detected among humans, as was the case with the new virus, infectious threats should first be identified in animals so that early action can be taken. According to Embarek, this is "probably a virus that can go back and forth between humans and pigs".

Some 200 pigs at a farm in western Canada were placed in quarantine, on 3 May as a result of detection of the A/H1N1 virus. They will be slaughtered as a precautionary measure. The Canadian authorities told the OIE that the animals had probably been infected by a carpenter, who recently returned from a trip to Mexico. The carpenter, as well as the pig farmer and his family, showed flu symptoms between 14 and 29 April.

The European Commission is reassuring as to the short-term evolution of the human pandemic. Its experts note that the arrival of warm weather in Europe should make it easier to curb the development of the virus. On the other hand, a vaccine should be prepared in preparation for a likely reappearance of this form of flu next autumn.

Russia's veterinary services, which justify their caution by the country's incapacity to cope with a large-scale outbreak of an epizootic disease, confirmed their intention to maintain their restrictions on imports of pigs from countries where the virus has been detected. Canada, Mexico, the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain are among the states on Moscow's list. China is also defending the principle of embargos, considered compatible with World Trade Organisation rules. Beijing argues that it "has no choice" but to set up such trade restrictions to protect its citizens and animals. Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Jordan, Japan and South Korea have also either banned imports of pigs or set up drastic sanitary control measures at their borders.
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Publication:Europe Environment
Date:May 21, 2009

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