MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has extended its ban on imports of live pigs and raw pork to include the United Kingdom because of fears about the spread of a deadly flu virus, the country's chief veterinarian said on Tuesday.
"We have added another European Union country, Great Britain to the banned list," Nikolai Vlasov told a news briefing.
He added that the ban was a formality, as the United Kingdom currently was not exporting pork to Russia because of another ban imposed due to foot-and-mouth disease.
Earlier on Tuesday, Rosselkhoznadzor animal and plant health watchdog said it had also banned live pigs and raw pork imports from the Canadian province of Alberta.
Vlasov said more bans were possible and they could be applied to entire countries, or their regions depending on the velocity with which affected countries divulge information about the discovery and the spread of the virus.
An outbreak of the virus, also known as swine flu, has started in Mexico and new cases have been announced across the world, keeping alive fears of a possible pandemic.
Russia has already banned pigs and raw pork from the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Ontario and Spain.
Russia has banned imports of all meat including pork, beef and poultry from Mexico, where the outbreak started, Central American and Caribbean countries and the U.S. states of California, New York, South Carolina and Texas.
It has also banned imports of live pigs and pork not submitted to thermal treatment at 80 degrees Celsius (176 degrees Fahrenheit) for no less than 30 minutes from Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, New Jersey and Ohio.
The United States and Spain have said the bans are unjustified as there is no proof that the virus could be transmitted by meat.
Major international organizations issued on Saturday a joint statement stressing the safety of pork products.
But Vlasov insisted that the H1N1 virus, which mixes swine, avian and human strains, was a new one and additional studies were necessary to prove that it cannot be transmitted through raw pork.
"If we are convinced that pork is safe then its imports should be allowed to the Russian market, but now we are not convinced," he said.
He said Russia was well prepared to fight the virus if it appeared inside the country.
But, he said, there was a danger that the virus could penetrate to Indonesia and the Central Africa and mutate there with the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus also known as bird flu and trigger a pandemic.
"If these two viruses produce an offspring, which will inherit the worst qualities of its ancestors, then we will find ourselves in a very special situation. Currently, nothing bad is happening," Vlasov said.
Reporting by Aleksandras Budrys; editing by Peter Blackburn