North American pork hit with bans on flu scare

Tue Apr 28, 2009 7:32pm EDT
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By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North American pork products were hit with bans in the wake of an outbreak of a new swine flu strain, even though health officials said consumers could not contract the virus by eating pork.

The virus has killed about 150 people in Mexico, and has made 65 people ill in several U.S. states. It also has spread to Canada, Europe, the Middle East and New Zealand.

But the virus, which spreads between people, has never been found in pigs, and government officials decried the bans.

"It is not a ... situation where banning pork products or prohibiting your consumers from having access to American pork is going to make one iota worth of difference in terms of protecting consumers," said Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk praised the Japanese government for publicly stating it would not ban U.S. pork.

"We want to make sure that a handful of our trading partners don't take advantage of this legitimate concern over public health and engage in behavior that could also damage the world's economy," Kirk said at a news conference.

Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day said the bans were unsubstantiated.

"Swine flu cannot be contracted by eating meat products and we insist that people follow (World Trade Organization) guidelines," Day told Reuters financial television.   Continued...