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.
Ten countries have put restrictions on imports of U.S. pork or swine, a spokeswoman for the USTR said.
* Russia banned all meat from California, Texas, Kansas, New York and Ohio
* China banned pork from Texas, California and Kansas
* Philippines, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates and Ecuador banned all U.S. pork imports
* Korea banned U.S. live swine, but not pork
St. Lucia has also banned U.S. pork, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Agriculture Department said.
Canadian officials said Ukraine banned hogs and pork from Canada, the United States and Mexico. Korea banned swine from all three countries, but continued to accept pork products.
Canadian officials had earlier said Korea banned pork, but later corrected their statements.
Croatia banned live hogs from North and South America, Canadian officials said.
The U.S. National Pork Producers Council said it expects the trade restrictions to be temporary.
“We don’t think we’re going to get into something that’s protracted here. We think that these restrictions are misguided and they’re going to be short-lived,” said Nick Giordano, a vice president and counsel for international trade policy with the group.
The pork industry will continue to serve markets like Russia and China from states unaffected by restrictions, he said. China was the No. 2 market and Russia the fifth-largest last year.
Other markets did not represent huge volumes for the industry, he said.
“I think what we’re seeing here is an extreme case of countries acting with extreme precaution. The problem with that is there hasn’t been and there will not be any implication of pork,” Giordano said.
U.S. hog prices fell sharply for the second consecutive day at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Investors were spooked by the trade bans and worried the flu scare would disrupt travel, trade, and consumer shopping habits, hurting meat sales.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Christopher Doering in Washington and Rod Nickel and Bob Burgdorfer in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio