Last of Russia’s Canadian pork bans lifted: report

Imports of live hogs and raw pork from Ontario will again be accepted at Russian ports of entry starting Saturday, once Moscow lifts the last of its H1N1 influenza-related bans.

The Reuters news agency reported Friday that Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia’s animal and plant health watchdog, will lift its bans on pigs and pork from Ontario and from the U.S. state of Wisconsin effective July 18.

Reuters reporter Aleksandras Budrys said Rosselkhoznadzor, in its decision, cited a “stabilization” of the situation of the H1N1 virus in those two jurisdictions. However, the Russian agency “did not provide details about how the situation had improved” in either place, Budrys noted.

Russia’s H1N1-related meat bans now apply only to live pigs and uncooked pork from Florida, all of Great Britain and three prefectures in Japan, and to all types of meat from Mexico and parts of Central America and the Caribbean, Reuters said.

H1N1-related bans on pigs and pork, as imposed by Russia and a handful of other meat-importing nations, have puzzled many observers. The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), for one, was compelled to reiterate again in a statement Monday from Paris that “there is no evidence at this time that animals are playing any role in the epidemiology or the spread of the virus.”

“Pointless”

Moreover, the OIE said Monday, “the imposition of ban measures related to the import of pigs and pig products from countries with human or animal cases are pointless and do not comply with international standards published by the OIE and all other competent standard setting international bodies for animal health and food safety.”

Indeed, although several major media have dubbed it “swine flu,” the strain of H1N1 elevated to pandemic status by the World Health Organization (WHO) last month has not been confirmed in hogs anywhere in Canada except for a herd in Alberta, quarantined in April and later completely culled by its owner.

The Alberta herd had the only known cases of this strain of H1N1 in hogs anywhere in the world, until Argentina reported last month that the flu strain was suspected to have crossed over from humans to a herd of hogs in Buenos Aires province.

Others remain unconvinced that the flu strain can’t cross back from hogs to humans. The Vancouver-based Georgia Straight newspaper contended in an article Thursday that the H1N1 flu virus’ spread in British Columbia had “a much closer relationship with pig farming than suspected.”

The newspaper cited data suggesting the health regions where intensive hog farming takes place have human H1N1 infection rates higher than the provincial average.

As of Wednesday, Canada had reported a total of 10,156 lab-confirmed cases of H1N1 in people, including 1,115 hospitalizations and 45 deaths.

As of July 6, the WHO had reported a total of 94,512 lab-confirmed cases of this strain of H1N1 worldwide, including 429 deaths. The U.S., Mexico, Canada, the U.K. and Chile are home to the lion’s share of human cases. Reuters said Russia, as of July 16, has reported just four confirmed human cases and no deaths.

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