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SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (Reuters) - Pigs that have been infected with the H1N1 flu virus could enter the human food supply once the animals recover and can be shown to pose no threat, Canadian health officials said on Wednesday.
Officials spelled out their intentions after the World Health Organization cautioned on Wednesday that meat from pigs infected with the H1N1 virus should not be used for human consumption. However, it wasn't immediately clear if WHO's statement applied to animals that had recovered from the illness.
Canadian authorities said they would allow all "virus-negative" pigs into the food supply, whether an animal never had the virus or had recovered from it, if they determine they pose no risk to humans.
"If we can satisfy ourselves that this virus behaves no differently in swine than any other influenza virus, then our approach on this will be to manage this in the most prudent responsible way to protect public health," Dr. Brian Evans, executive vice-president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said in a conference call with health officials.
"If it is determined that virus-negative pigs do not pose a risk in the food supply, which would be the standard operating procedure, then we would be moving in that direction."
The CFIA announced last Saturday it had found the H1N1 flu virus in a swine herd in the western province of Alberta. The pigs were infected by a worker at the farm who had just returned from Mexico, prompting China and other countries to ban pork imports from the region.
Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer advised: "There's no reason to stop eating pork. The inspection system in Canada does address all those issues (raised by WHO)."
Animals are inspected at the farm, when the animals arrive at the slaughterhouse and on the processing line.
"What the WHO is saying is what we do every day, every week, every month, every year as part of our food inspection system," Evans said.
He said none of the infected pigs had left the quarantined farm since April 28. The animals are recovering as the virus moves through the herd, he said.
The CFIA has not made any decision on whether to slaughter the herd of 2,200 animals, but will continue to conduct studies to confirm the virus is no longer circulating on the farm, Evans said.
China and Russia have banned swine and pork from Alberta since the H1N1 virus discovery. A dozen other countries have also imposed bans on Canadian pork, swine or both.
Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Rob Wilson