Egypt's slaughter of pigs draws criticism as misguided

International health officials say there is no reason to slaughter pigs because H1N1 cannot be passed from pigs to humans.

By , Correspondent

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    Egyptian youths throw rocks at police during clashes over the mass killing of pigs that continued in Cairo on Monday. The government announced plans to cull the nation’s entire pig population of 250,000 to 300,000 last week, and initially described it as a precaution against the emerging H1N1 influenza strain that has primarily infected patients in Mexico and the United States.
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CAIRO – Egypt continued its slaughter of the country's pig population Monday in a move initially described by the government as an effort to combat swine flu, provoking clashes with the slum dwellers who raise pigs.

Hundreds of residents of Cairo slum Mansheyet Nasr, home to large communities of Christian garbage collectors who also raise pigs, sparred with police Sunday in protest.

The government announced plans to cull the nation’s entire pig population of 250,000 to 300,000 last week, and initially described it as a precaution against the emerging H1N1 influenza strain that has primarily infected patients in Mexico and the United States. No cases of swine flu have been reported in Egypt.

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But both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations have criticized the measure, saying that although the virus is popularly known as “swine flu,” it is only passed between humans, not between pigs and humans.

"There is no reason to do that,” Joseph Domenech, the chief veterinary officer for the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), told reporters over the weekend. “It's not a swine influenza, it's a human influenza.” He later called Egypt’s pig cull, “a real mistake.”

Keiji Fukuda, acting Assistant Director General of the WHO, agreed, telling reporters: "We don't see any evidence that anyone is getting infected from pigs. This appears to be a virus which is moving from person to person."

Despite the criticism, Egypt went ahead with the plan, desribing it as a broader health initiative, and Sunday moved police into Mansheyet Nasr. Independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm reported that residents threw stones at riot police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Eight protestors and seven police were injured, while 12 slum residents were arrested. An unkown number of pigs were actually seized.

Most of Egypt's majority-Muslim population does not consume pork, and the pigs are raised and consumed by Egypt's Christian minority. The Christian garbage collectors, who sort and recycle the city's waste, also raise pigs, using them to dispose of some of the garbage, and depend on the animals for part of their livelihood.

Authorities estimate it will take up to six months to kill all the pigs in the country, according to Agence France-Presse, and have announced plans to buy new machinery from abroad for the specific purpose of increasing the slaughter capacity to 3,000 animals a day. Al Masry Al Youm reports that as of Monday, only 888 pigs had been killed and that Health Minister Hatem El Gebaly has announced the government has set aside 30 million Egyptian pounds to compensate farmers.

The move has received criticism from some unexpected quarters in Egypt, with the editor of the pro-government daily Rose El Yousef mocking it on the editorial page.

“Killing [the pigs] is not a solution, otherwise, we should kill the people, because the virus spreads through them," he wrote. "The terrified members of Parliament should have concentrated on asking the government first about the preventive measures and ways of confronting the problem."

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