Australian pigs free from swine flu virus and pork safe to eat

The current epidemic of swine flu which has now affected six countries, has prompted some nations to ban all imports of American pork and pork products.

This is despite reassurances from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) that properly handled and cooked pork products do not pose a risk.

The WHO says "swine influenza has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork, or other products derived from pigs and the swine influenza virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 160F/70C, corresponding to the general guidance for the preparation of pork and other meat."

The Australian Government as yet has not followed suit but Federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke says the government is keeping up with the latest information and will abide with any safety precautions that are recommended by the WHO.

Mr Burke too has also reiterated the message that alarm about pork meat is unnecessary and the Australian pork industry has been quick to also reassure the public that linking pork consumption with the new strain of swine flu was misleading.

Australian pork producers say there is no risk of infection from this virus through eating cooked pork and consumers need to listen to and respect the health authorities before deciding against eating pork and rely on the experts to advise the public if there was a concern about food safety - they say swine flu is a human health issue, not an animal health or food safety issue.

Australian vets have virtually ruled out any outbreak of the new swine flu virus among the nation's pig population as it would need reasonable numbers of people affected, and then those people exposed to pigs as there is no swine influenza in Australian pork - swine flu is endemic in much of the America's pig population and dealt with on a routine basis.

The WHO says the virus circulating in Mexico and the U.S. is transmitted from person to person, and there is no evidence that the virus is transmitted by food and the virus has not been isolated in animals to date, therefore, it is not justified to name this disease 'swine influenza'.

The World Organisation for Animal Health also says the name "swine flu" is wrong and misleading and as in the past, many human influenza epidemics with animal origin have been named using their geographic name, like 'Spanish influenza' or 'Asiatic influenza', so it would be logical to call this disease 'North American influenza' and also says it is unfair to impose quarantine restrictions on pork imports until science can show if the virus is circulating among farm animals.

Australian farmers say all pork in Australia is safe to eat despite the threat of swine flu as Australia is free of the swine flu virus and strict biosecurity procedures are in place to protect the health and well being of animals and imported pork undergoes rigorous importation protocols.

They say Australia does not import pig semen or live pigs, which further protects the industry from the spread of disease.

Federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke says Australians should not be alarmist about pork amid the swine flu outbreak and the Government was doing everything it could to minimise any potential spread of the disease to Australia in line with WHO recommendations.

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