Listen to WHO, ministers advise pork importers

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration Thursday of the H1N1 flu virus’ spread as a phase 6 pandemic is no reason to further restrict trade with Canada, federal ministers warn.

“While the situation is serious, the WHO has recommended that international borders remain open and that trade and commerce continue to move freely,” Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and International Trade Minister Stockwell Day said in a release Thursday.

“Unfortunately, some trade partners are still maintaining restrictions on Canadian imports, without any scientifically justifiable evidence to support their actions. We will continue to work with these countries to help them make an informed decision and reinstate all trade in pork and live hogs.”

It’s important for consumers to remember the international scientific community agrees H1N1 can’t be transmitted through properly cooked meat, Day and Ritz said in their statement.

“It is also important to refer to this flu virus by its proper name, H1N1, to make sure there is no confusion about the safety and quality of Canadian pork.”

The WHO’s declaration of a phase 6 pandemic means the H1N1 virus has caused “sustained community-level outbreaks in more than one continental region,” they said.

The WHO’s decision, they noted, is based on the spread of the virus, not the severity of illness it causes. Generally, they said, H1N1 is causing “moderate illness” from which most affected people recover at home without medical treatment.

Some provinces have stepped up measures in northern and remote areas following recent clusters of more serious H1N1-related illnesses in aboriginal communities in Manitoba.

As of June 10, four people have died in Canada and 138 people have been hospitalized while infected with H1N1. The federal Public Health Agency on June 10 had reported 2,978 lab-confirmed cases of H1N1 across all provinces and territories except Newfoundland and Labrador. Case loads were heaviest in Ontario (1,562), Quebec (611), Saskatchewan (221) and Alberta (195).

“Canada’s missions abroad have been extremely active in communicating with our trade partners and highlighting the safety of Canadian products. Their efforts have produced real results,” the ministers said.

“Along with the good work of our officials, we have personally intervened with other countries to make this point and to get agreement from them to lift restrictions.”

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

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