Swine flu alert prompts pork import bans

Mon Apr 27, 2009 12:57pm EDT

* Russia, China ban pork imports from Mexico, U.S.

* Philippines, Serbia, Kazakhstan also slap on bans

* WHO says no danger of swine flu from contact with pork

* U.S. groups also worry Russia ban could affect beef

* Some reports of added inspection slowing trade (Adds comments from U.S. trade group on additional bans)

By Jonathan Lynn

GENEVA, April 27 (Reuters) - Outbreaks of swine flu have prompted several countries to ban the import of pork, raising the prospect the disease will add a further protectionist blow to sagging world trade.

International trade rules allow countries to restrict or ban imports for health and safety reasons -- but this has to be based on scientific evidence. The World Health Organization (WHO) says swine flu does not spread by eating infected pork.

"It's not supposed to be an unjustifiable barrier to trade," Stuart Harbinson, senior trade policy advisor at law firm Winston & Strawn and former chairman of agriculture negotiations at the World Trade Organization, told Reuters.

Confirmed outbreaks of swine flu in Mexico, where it has killed 103 people, the United States, Canada and Spain have prompted health authorities to put customs officers on alert.

Cases of the flu, which has components of classic avian, human and swine flu viruses but has not actually been seen in pigs, were also suspected in Britain, France, Italy and Israel.

Russia banned imports of all meat not treated thermally from Mexico, Texas, California and Kansas, and raw pork imports from eight other U.S. states, Central America and the Caribbean. [ID:nLQ600185]

China, the world's largest pork consumer, also banned imports of live pigs and pork products from Mexico, Texas, California and Kansas. [ID:nPEK2499]

The United Arab Emirates is considering banning imports of pork products from Mexico and the United States.

The Philippines also banned U.S. and Mexican pork, while Kazakhstan banned imports from areas with confirmed cases, and Serbia banned pork from all of North America, said Joe Schuele, a spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Some of the markets are not large importers of U.S. pork, but the trend is concerning, Schuele said.

"There may be a certain follow-the-leader mentality," he said. "It tells us that sound science is not prevailing."

For Russia, a major market for U.S. pork, exports can continue from unaffected states, but officials were worried the ban may extend to beef, which would hurt shipments from major beef-shipping states of Kansas and Texas, Schuele said.

Russia's ban did not apply to U.S. poultry exports, a spokesman for the U.S. National Chicken Council said.

Exporters have also seen increased inspections of shipments, which could slow trade, Schuele said. "We don't think that's scientifically necessary, but it's certainly a better alternative than suspending imports," he said.

FEARS OF ABUSE

The world animal health body OIE says the disease should not even be called swine flu, as it also contained avian and human influenza components and no pig has been found ill with the disease so far. [ID:nLR478786]

The WHO says the swine flu virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit), in line with general guidance for cooking pork safely.

But exporters often claim that health and safety standards are abused to keep out their goods.

The latest restrictions will add to those concerns, particular as the G20 group of leading and emerging countries repeated a call this month to its members not to raise trade barriers.

Last Thursday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said nine out of the 20 nations -- including Russia and the United States -- had taken or were considering measures to restrict trade in the face of the economic crisis. [ID:nN23322834] (For more stories on swine flu, click on [nFLU]) (For WHO information on swine flu, go to: here ) (Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy)




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