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Canada defends pork safety

OTTAWA, April 30 – The Canadian government Wednesday called on countries that have banned the import of pigs and pork products to reverse the move, urging them to "base their decisions on sound science."

Some countries "have imposed a ban on North American pork and swine (live hog) products, without scientifically justifiable evidence to support their actions," said Canada’s International Trade Minister Stockwell Day and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a joint statement.

"We urge these countries to base their decisions on sound science," the ministers said.

Health authorities including the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations are unanimous on the fact that the influenza cannot be contracted through eating pork or pork products, the ministers said.

Pig farmers in the United States, Canada and the disease’s epicenter of Mexico are reeling from bans on their exports of live swine or pork meat imposed by 15 nations including Russia, China, Thailand, Indonesia and several Balkan nations.

Mexico, where the outbreak began, nearly doubled its number of confirmed swine flu cases on Wednesday to 49, including seven deaths from the virus.

Canada has recorded 19 confirmed cases, and the United States has more than 91 infections in at least 10 states and one death.

"Now is the time to work together as nations to control this outbreak," said Day and Ritz.

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Canadian diplomatic missions worldwide are providing information to trade partners and importers "highlighting the safety of Canadian pork and swine products," they added.

"In countries where an import ban is being considered or has been imposed, we are talking to the key agencies and officials to help them make an informed decision and recognize that Canadian pork is safe."

World Health Organization acting Assistant Director General Keiji Fukuda said it was ruling out pigs as a source of transmission.

"We don’t see any evidence that anyone is getting infected from pigs," Fukuda said in a telephone news conference Wednesday. "This appears to be a virus which is moving from person to person," he added.

As an added precaution, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and local authorities are working with pork producers and veterinarians "to ensure the highest levels of biosecurity and to enhance monitoring activities," the ministers said.

Total Canadian pork exports last year were valued at 2.7 billion dollars, according to government figures.

The Canadian Pork Council has called on its health ministry to back a relabeling of the outbreak as "North American flu," as opposed to swine flu, in the same way earlier outbreaks such as the Spanish flu and Asian flu were named after geographic regions.

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