May 4, 2009 / 9:49 AM / 10 years ago

Russia says extends pork import ban to Canada, Spain

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Monday extended its ban on pork imports from some Canadian provinces and Spain and on meat imports from South Carolina over fears about the spread of a deadly flu virus.

Russia, which also lifted the meat import ban on some U.S. states, said it could toughen restrictions on pork imports if it received proof the virus could be passed from pigs to humans.

Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak, announced on Sunday the epidemic seemed to have passed its peak and the H1N1 virus might not be more severe than normal flu.

But new cases of the virus, which mixes swine, avian and human flu strains, have been announced across the world, keeping alive fears of a possible pandemic.

Russia’s animal and plant health watchdog, known as Rosselkhoznadzor, said in a statement it was banning imports of all types of raw meat and meat products from the U.S. state of South Carolina.

Previously the states of California, Texas and New York were included in the so called Zone 1 ban, as well as Mexico and countries of Central America and the Caribbean.

Russia also banned imports of raw pork from the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Ontario, as well as EU member Spain under a so called Zone 2 ban.

Russia removed the U.S. states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma from the Zone 2 ban. The states of Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, New Jersey and Ohio remain in the Zone 2.

“We have monitored the situation and lifted the ban from the states where the situation has remained unchanged for a week,” Nikolai Vlasov, Russia’s chief veterinarian, told Reuters.

“We included in the banned list only countries from which we import pork. Despite the presence of the virus, for example, Great Britain is not there, as pork imports from that country are already banned because of foot-and-mouth disease.”

MAY TOUGHEN RESTRICTIONS

In a separate statement, Rosselkhoznadzor said it may toughen pork import restrictions if tests proved the virus transmitted by a Canadian farmer to his pigs was the same strain which caused the current outbreak.

“It does not mean that we will impose more bans,” Vlasov said. “We may lift all bans altogether. But then we may have to check all pork shipments for the presence of the virus. And we will not be happy starting that as it may prove to be very expensive.”

A Russian government commission responsible for controlling the spread of flu ruled last week to keep bans on meat imports caused by the flu until June.

The U.S. embassy in Moscow said last Tuesday pork originating from the United States was safe and that there was no evidence the virus could be transmitted by meat.

Russian media quoted the head of state consumer protection body, Gennady Onishchenko, as saying the World Health Organization was not providing sufficient information about the virus.

The consumer protection body, known as Rospotrebnadzor, could not be reached for comment.

Major international organizations issued on Saturday a joint statement stressing the safety of pork products.

“I not only support Onischchenko, but I also disagree with the recent WHO-WTO joint declaration,” Vlasov said. “Health officials should stick to their own business and not promote the world pork trade.”

Russia has not yet registered a single case of the virus.

A test for H1N1 virus on a passenger returning from the United States proved to be negative, Rospotrebnadzor’s website www.rospotrebnadzor.ru said.

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