Trade ministers hint at action on pork bans

“Unjustified” import bans on pork and pork products from Canada, the U.S. or Mexico will be met with preventive steps, the three nations’ top trade officials warned Thursday.

Canada’s International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Mexico’s Secretary of the Economy Gerardo Ruiz Mateos jointly called Thursday for an end to “unscientific” bans on pork imports from the three countries.

“More than a dozen” countries worldwide have sought to ban pork imports from countries affected by the H1N1 flu virus, they noted.

The three ministers said they’re concerned that “some trading partners are imposing restrictions on trade in swine, pork and other meat products from North America that are without scientific justification and inconsistent with their international obligations.”

Such restrictions, they said, “will likely result in serious trade disruptions without cause and result in significant economic damage.”

Day, Kirk and Ruiz Mateos quoted a joint statement Saturday from the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which said “there is no evidence that the virus is transmitted by food. There is currently therefore no justification in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Standards Code for the imposition of trade measures on the importation of pigs or their products.”

The minsters quoted the four organizations as saying “pork and pork products, handled in accordance with good hygienic practices recommended by the WHO, FAO, Codex Alimentarius Commission and the OIE, will not be a source of infection.”

“In view of the above,” the ministers said, “we urge our trading partners to remove these restrictions on our products immediately. We will continue to follow this situation closely, and will take any steps to prevent the enforcement of unjustified measures against our exports, as appropriate.”

“Misunderstanding”

The FAO, WHO and OIE on Thursday re-released an April 30 statement “to avoid any misunderstanding” about H1N1, in which they again stressed that influenza viruses “are not known to be transmissible to people through eating processed pork or other food products derived from pigs.”

Heat treatments commonly used in cooking meat (70°C core temperature) will “readily inactivate” any viruses potentially present in raw meat products.

The three organizations repeated that “authorities and consumers should ensure that meat from sick pigs or pigs found dead are not processed or used for human consumption under any circumstances.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the Public Health Agency of Canada has confirmed a total of 214 human cases of influenza A virus H1N1 in nine provinces, mostly in Ontario (56), British Columbia (54), Nova Scotia (53) and Alberta (33). Saskatchewan on Thursday confirmed its first cases, in two young women.

A herd of hogs in Alberta is also recovering from the human H1N1 strain. No human or hog deaths have been reported in Canada.

The WHO, as of 6 p.m. GMT Thursday, reported that 24 countries have confirmed a total of 2,371 cases of human infection with H1N1.

Of those cases, 1,112 were in Mexico, including 42 people who have died of the virus. The U.S. has confirmed 896 cases, including two deaths. No other country has reported any deaths from the H1N1 flu.

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