Swine Flu Fears Spark Mass Slaughter of Pigs in Egypt
Egypt has begun the slaughter of up to 350,000 pigs in an effort to stop the spread of swine flu.
The cull, mandated by Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali, is going ahead despite the fact that there have been no cases of swine flu in the country.
The move is seen to be a reflection of the extreme concern in the country, which was one of the hardest hit outside Asia by the H5N1 bird flu virus between 2004 and 2008. Some 25 million birds were slaughtered in Egypt in 2006 when the disease hit, devastating the poultry sector.
Pigs are banned entirely in some Muslim countries, however in others they are often raised by religious minorities who can eat pork. In Egypt, pigs are raised and consumed mainly by the Christian minority, who constitute approximately 10% of the population.
The news of the cull has angered the Coptic Christian community, especially the Zebaleen rubbish collectors who depend on the pigs for their livelihood.
Scores of them blocked the streets and stoned the vehicles of Health Ministry workers as they arrived to carry out the government's order at pig farms on the outskirts of Cario this afternoon.
“Our pigs are healthy. They are our capital and they have no diseases,” said Adel Ishak, who feeds his pigs from the rubbish he collects in Manshiet Nasser, northeast of Cairo.
"We remind Hosni Mubarak that we are all Egyptians. Where does he want us to go?” added 46-year-old Gergis Faris, another pig farmer. “We are uneducated people, just living day by day and trying to make a living, and now if our pigs are taken from us without compensation, how are we supposed to live?”
A UN agency has said that the cull is a "real mistake".
Joseph Domenech, the chief veterinary officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, said of the decision:
"It's a real mistake. There is no reason to do that. It's not a swine influenza, it's a human influenza," said Domenech, adding the FAO had been trying to reach Egyptian officials but has so far been unsuccessful. "There is certainly no support from FAO for that decision."
Up to 159 people have died of the disease in Mexico and one child has died in the US. The disease is a mix of human, avian and swine flu.
But since no pigs have been found with the disease, groups like the FAO and the Paris-based Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) are lobbying for a name change.
"This is one of the results of this strange way of defining the disease as a swine influenza. That's why the FAO and OIE are fighting to get that name changed because it's a totally undue focus on swine," he said.