Even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the H1N1 influenza (swine flu) as a global pandemic, the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) maintains that there is no role of animals (including swine) in spreading this virus. This, being a human disease, is basically a public health issue.
This United Nations body has also advised that the production, trade and consumption of hygienically produced pork and pork products can continue without any curbs.
Several countries have banned the import of pigs and pork products from countries affected by the swine flu, severely denting the global trade in pork products. The pork exports from the US have been the worst hit as almost all major trade partners have put up restrictions on the inflow of all piggeries products from that country. The other pork exporting countries have also been adversely affected. The domestic sale of pork products has declined sharply in the swine flu-hit countries, dealing a severe blow to the pork-based industry.
However, the OIE feels that there is little scientific reason to put curbs on the pork industry. “A/H1N1 is indeed a public health issue for all worldwide but so far the role of animals has not been demonstrated in the epidemiology or spread,” OIE director-general Bernard Vallat has said in a statement issued after the declaration of the swine as pandemic of phase 6 (highest risk) by the WHO.
The OIE’s advisories to all nations on swine flu categorically state that the pork products handled in accordance with good hygienic practices are not a source of infection. “The imposition of ban measurers related to the import from countries with human cases of A/H1N1 are pointless and do not comply with international standards published by the OIE.”
However, at the same time, it has advised the national veterinary services to effectively monitor animal populations for clinical signs of disease.
The Indian piggeries sector has so far remained largely unaffected by the swine flu outbreak though the number of H1N1-positive human cases has touched 20 (as on Sunday). Pigs, in any case, account for only a small fraction of the country’s total livestock population. Organised sector pig rearing is confined chiefly to Kerala, Bihar and Jharkhand. Nearly one-fourth of the country’s total pig population is in the North-East where pork consumption is fairly common. Elsewhere, only small numbers of backyard-reared pigs are present, that too largely in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
According to animal scientists of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), swine flu has seldom been reported as a major disease of pigs in India.