Label 'swine flu' gets up the nose of world's pig farmers

New Zealand pig farmers have suffered collateral damage from the use of "swine flu" as a name for the epidemic influenza spreading out of Mexico.

The latest form of the virus contains pig, bird and human elements, but has been widely referred to by health authorities as swine flu.

The World Organisation for Animal Health said on Monday that the name swine flu was a misnomer as the deadly virus has origins among birds and humans, as well as pigs.

At least 10 countries - from China to Russia to Ukraine to Ecuador - have established bans on the import of pork products, despite a declaration from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the virus cannot be transmitted by eating pork.

Most of the bans have been on import of pork from Mexico or the United States, but one of those countries - the Philippines - has cancelled an order for New Zealand pork.

Other countries, such as Russia, have just blocked the import of all untreated pork from Mexico and 11 US states, and raw pork from the Central America and the Caribbean.

This is despite the WHO stating there is no risk of the virus infecting people eating well-cooked pork and pork products.

In some agricultural markets, farmers and their lobbyists are calling for a different name to be used for the virus.

New Zealand Pork Industry Board chairman Chris Trengrove said the public was confused about the origins of swine flu.

"Birds probably spread it to pigs, and swine influenza is endemic in the northern hemisphere, particularly in North America and Mexico, and then a worker's probably had human flu," he said.

"Put the three together and that's what you've got."

The Canadian Pork Council has called on its government's health ministry to stop using the term "swine flu", and use "North American flu" instead.

And in Israel, a health minister said that the name "swine flu" should not be used because pigs were banned by Judaism: instead, he suggested, authorities should instead call the virus "Mexican flu".

New Zealand exports of pork are worth less than $3 million a year - it imports just over 40 per cent of its pork, much of it from North America but the meat must be cooked or treated.

The pork industry in this country has been resisting Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry recommendations that fresh pig meat be allowed in from countries including Mexico.

Pig farmers want imported pork cooked, frozen or otherwise treated to guard against a pig virus, PRRS.

After a 1999 study showed it was possible to transmit the virus to healthy pigs by feeding them fresh meat taken from infected pigs, MAF introduced provisional measures in 2001 requiring that all pig meat imported from countries with PRRS be either cooked or cured.

But MAF this month released provisional import health standards for pig meat from Canada, the EU, Mexico and the US to allow the import of consumer-ready cuts for direct retail sale to be sold in packages of less than 3kg each.

- NZPA

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