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Sunday, May 3, 2009

> Egypt to begin controversial pig slaughter


Egypt is to begin a controversial slaughter of the nation's 250,000 pigs in earnest today, despite the WHO saying there was no evidence the animals were transmitting swine flu to humans.

Cairo governor Abdel Halim Wazir told the state news agency Mena that the government will begin slaughtering an estimated 60,000 pigs raised by rubbish collectors in a shanty town in Egypt's sprawling capital.

Egypt announced on Wednesday that it will slaughter the nation's entire pig population after an outbreak of swine flu in other countries, even though no cases have been detected in Egypt.

The move has been widely criticised, with the UN World Health Organisation saying there was no evidence that pigs were transmitting the virus to humans.

However, UN agencies are still trying to find out if the virus behind a human pandemic alert is circulating in pigs in Mexico, warning that ongoing swine infection could "worsen" the risk to human health.

As such, possible restrictions on the movement and trade of swine livestock have not been ruled out, the WHO and Food and Agriculture Organisation in a food safety report today.

Egyptian officials say the slaughter is a general health measure.

Wazir has said the slain pigs will be frozen and the offal burnt in furnaces at the slaughterhouses.

"We're at stage five, the matter is now human not animal," health ministry spokesman Abdelrahman Shahine told AFP on Thursday, after the WHO raised its alert level over the flu, now called influenza A(H1N1).

"The authorities took advantage of the situation to resolve the question of disorderly pig rearing in Egypt," he said.
Pigs eaten by Coptic Christian minority

The pigs mostly belong to and are eaten by members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority and are reared by rubbish collectors in Cairo's shantytowns.

Wazir said on Friday that 70 pigs were confiscated from owners in the Batn el-Baqar slum of Cairo and slaughtered, and the sites disinfected and destroyed.

The government has said it would compensate pig owners, but a man who lost his herd told AFP he received nothing.

"They did not give us anything. Riot police came and government workers came and took the pigs," said Ayman Saed, a resident of Batn el-Baqar who owned 30 pigs.

"We went with them to the slaughterhouse, and they said take the carcasses. I left everything there because I didn't know what do with them," he said.

The rubbish collectors say the cull will affect their business and wipe out a crucial source of income. They use the pigs to dispose of organic waste and sell off some their herds once a year.

At least one clash was reported north of Cairo on Wednesday, with farmers throwing stones at veterinary officials who had come to take away their pigs.

Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza has defended the measure, inviting the FAO, which criticised the cull, to "come and see for itself the conditions at any pig farm in Egypt."

The agriculture ministry's head of infectious diseases Saber Abdel Aziz Galal said the government would eventually set up farms with imported pigs.

"Within two years the pigs will return, but we need first to build new farms," he said - Malaysiakini.