China Halts Imports Of Canadian Pork

Canadian Pork Council says China stopped imports of Alberta pork Sunday because of the presence of swine flu in a herd of pigs, calling the move a ‘knee-jerk reaction.’

MAYERTHORPE, Alberta (CP) -- China stopped imports of Alberta pork Sunday because of the presence of swine flu in a herd of pigs, a move the head of a Canadian industry group called a "knee-jerk reaction."

Jurgen Preugschas, an Alberta hog farmer and president of the Canadian Pork Council, received word Sunday from contacts in China confirming a ban.

While the pork council is "disappointed" by the decision, Preugschas said he believes China was simply making a "very quick decision."

"Quite often countries have knee-jerk reactions to news out of another country," he said from his home in Mayerthorpe, Alta.

"It's easier to close the border and then talk about it and think about it and get all the details."

It's not that different from restrictions on Canadian pork by eight other countries that have occurred since the H1N1 influenza A virus started making international headlines, he suggested.

"Being it's as widespread as it is, I believe ultimately this will hopefully blow over and not have as serious effect as it might have," he said.

China's official news agency Xinhua announced the ban, attributing the information to China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Xinhua says it's a response to word that the flu strain that has infected people in at least 20 countries was detected in a herd of Alberta pigs.

Canadian officials said Saturday that most of the pigs at the central Alberta farm in question have recovered, but the herd was quarantined as a precaution.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has also stressed that eating pork does not pose a flu threat.

Dr. Gerald Hauer, chief provincial veterinarian for Alberta Agriculture, said if the rumours he's heard about the border closing are true, "we would hope the science wins out over the emotion and the borders re-open soon."

"We've heard over and over again that pork products are safe to eat ... Eating pork products is not a risk factor for swine influenza. Properly prepared pork is perfectly safe to eat."

He also said some other countries have put restrictions in place on live swine and pork product imports, but noted "some of those countries are not significant to the pork industry."

He did not know how much trade was done between Alberta and China in terms of pork products and live swine.

A spokesperson for Alberta's agriculture ministry was aware of the ban report but is unable to confirm whether it's true.

"We have heard that. Our officials are trying to confirm that with the federal government. It's the federal government that has responsibility for trade," Cathy Housdorff said in a phone interview.

"I'm not able to comment because we need to have confirmation from the federal government before we can respond."

The CFIA and Foreign Affairs could not be reached for comment.

Xinhua reported any Alberta pigs or relevant products sent to China after Sunday's declaration would be destroyed.

It said those sent to China before Saturday would have to undergo testing to ensure they're free of the flu strain.

The Xinhua report said visitors will also not be allowed to take pigs or relevant products into China.

It also said transport vehicles from the affected areas would be quarantined.

Preugschas said he doesn't believe news of the infected Alberta herd will have the same impact mad cow disease had on exports of Canadian beef, though he noted there are some "similarities" in the situation.

"In this case everyone agrees it is not a food safety issue at all," he said.

"This is a human health issue not a food safety issue, you cannot contract the flu by eating pork and therefore there really is no warranted reason for any closures of any borders."

Lack of common sense has still prevailed in various parts of the world since the outbreak began. Egypt, for instance, ordered the country's entire pig population slaughtered last week despite the fact the virus can't be contracted from eating pork.

Public misunderstanding of the issue was central to the World Health Organization decision to stop calling the illness "swine flu." That nickname angered pork producers and led to a drop in pork sales worldwide.

Once Canadian government officials meet with those in China and explain the situation, Preugschas predicted "they will understand that our pork is very safe."

He stressed it's crucial Ottawa step up, contact Canada's trading partners and relay that there is no health issue on the table.

A new law instituted some months ago by the Alberta government -- making flu a reportable disease by farmers and veterinarians there -- likely "sped up" the province's ability to detect the H1N1 flu in pigs, Preugschas said.

In 2008, total Canadian pork exports were valued at $2.7 billion, including nearly $527 million worth of Canadian live swine exports.

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