By Steve Rennie THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA – Canada's agriculture minister says pork remains safe to eat despite a warning by the World Health Organization that the swine flu virus may survive freezing and could be in the thawed meat and blood of infected pigs.
"Canadian pork is safe. There is no danger. Bottom line: Canadian pork is safe," Gerry Ritz said Wednesday after serving up pork sandwiches to MPs and government workers at a luncheon on Parliament Hill.
The WHO's warning came as Canadian scientists confirmed the swine flu spreading through Canada and Mexico is the same strain even though it has killed 42 Mexicans and been relatively mild here.
Earlier in the day, however, the director of WHO's Department of Food Safety, Zoonoses and Foodborne Diseases told Reuters the blood of pigs infected with a swine subtype of H1N1 may contain the virus.
Jorgen Schlundt cautioned against eating meat from sick and dead pigs infected with the swine flu since the virus might survive the freezing process and be present in thawed meat and blood.
Canada's top veterinary officer, Dr. Brian Evans, said the WHO's message jibes with what Canadian officials have been saying for weeks
"The message that is coming out clearly from WHO today, which is standard operating practice in Canada, is the fact that you do not slaughter sick animals and you do not slaughter dead animals for human consumption," he said.
"This doesn't change anything in Canada. What the WHO is saying is what we do every day, every week, every month, every year as part of our food inspection system."
The Canadian food system has safeguards to keep diseased pigs from making it to the market, Evans said.
Veterinarians and industry screen pigs at farms. Swine also undergo a clinical pre-assessment at slaughterhouses, and pig parts are checked again on the processing line.
"There is no reason to stop eating pork," said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer. "The inspection system in Canada does address all those issues."
What becomes of infected pigs on an Alberta farm remains uncertain.
Some 220 pigs the herd of 2,200 began showing signs of the flu on April 24 after a farmhand who travelled to Mexico and fell ill upon his return apparently infected them with the virus.
All of the pigs are recovering or have recovered. The barn has been under quarantine since April 28, and no other area hog barn has so far been affected.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is monitoring and testing the herd. The CFIA has not decided whether to cull the herd, Evans said.
Ten countries have banned Canadian pork products since the virus was found on the Alberta farm. China in particular banned pork from Alberta.
Canadian politicians and health officials have appealed to countries to lift the pork ban, which producers fear could do to their industry what the 2003 Mad Cow outbreak did to the Canadian cattle industry when exports were shut down for more than a year.
In 2008, total Canadian pork exports were valued at $2.7 billion, including nearly $527 million worth of Canadian live swine exports.
Also Wednesday, officials said researchers at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg are the first to genetically sequence Canadian and Mexican samples of the H1N1 virus.
And they have ruled out a mutation to explain why the Mexican cases have been much more severe than elsewhere.
One possibility being considered is that the Mexican victims may have had underlying medical conditions that made them more susceptible to the bug.
Canada's cases have all been mild, with the exception of a young Alberta girl who came down with a severe case of the flu.
Frank Plummer of the National Microbiology Laboratory said scientists worked day and night to sequence the virus in less than a week.
"We're continuing our analysis, but essentially what it appears to suggest is that there's nothing at the genetic level that differentiates this virus that we've got from Mexico and those from Nova Scotia and Ontario that explains apparent differences in disease severity ...
"That's one of the big questions that everybody's been asking, so part of the answer is that it's likely not the virus itself that is explaining the differential and severity of disease between Mexico and the rest of North America."
Plummer said he hopes the breakthrough will help to identify origin of virus and reveal how it spreads and mutates.
Officials have said Canada's only severe case – involving a girl in an Edmonton hospital – had more to do with underlying conditions than it did with the virus itself.
The girl, who has not been identified, is getting better and is breathing on her own.
It remained unclear how the girl, whose age was not released, became infected.
Canada added 25 cases to its confirmed case list Tuesday, bringing the national total to 165.
Two schools in British Columbia have been closed due to flu cases.
In Nova Scotia, a school that was one of the first in Canada to report cases stayed open despite the quarantine of a number of students and staff.
The Public Health Agency's website says, on average, the common flu sends about 20,000 Canadians to hospital each year. Between 4,000 and 8,000 can die of influenza and its complications annually, depending on the severity of the season.
EXPOSING the FDA and the USDA - Broad Casting here the things that they would prefer us NOT to know about our FOOD & DRUGS & Farming.