© AgMedia Inc.
by BETTER FARMING STAFF
A new strain of swine flu that international health agencies worry may become a global pandemic has the potential to disrupt Ontario producers’ hog markets.
But it’s too soon to tell exactly what the effect might be, if any, says Ken McEwan, a University of Guelph professor specializing in agricultural economics.
Because producers rely on export markets, he says there is potential for an impact if the outbreak reduces demand for pork in Mexico, believed to be the origin of the new strain of flu. Mexico imports nine per cent of the world's pork and in 2007 was the destination for five per cent of Canada's $24 billion in hog exports.
On the domestic front, demand could be affected if the public somehow connects "swine flu" with pork products, McEwan says, pointing out Canadians consumed 40 per cent of pork produced from 30 million hogs raised in 2008.
Public health agencies stress that no strain of swine flu can be caught by eating properly prepared pork products. Nevertheless, China today issued a ban of pork products from Mexico and parts of the United States. Update: The Philippines has issued a similar ban.
Dr. Tim Blackwell, lead veterinarian, disease prevention-swine, with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, says the H1N1 strain gained the “swine” label because it shares some characteristics of a swine flu. He’s not sure if the handle will stick; like other influenza strains this most current may have genetic connections to avian and human influenzas as well.
Blackwell doubts there is a threat of the strain being passed along to Canadian avian or pig populations.
“I don’t think they’re finding dead pigeons in the park; . . . nobody’s reporting terrible disease in pigs,” he says.
At this point, it’s not known if the strain even affects pigs, he says, noting U.S. researchers are just beginning to look into the possibility.
The prevalence of swine flu in Ontario’s pig herds is unknown. Blackwell says the last serious outbreak occurred three years ago. That strain, H3N2, has no connections to the new A/H1N1 strain identified in Mexico.
According to the World Health Organization, swine flu is a respiratory disease that kills one to four per cent of pigs it infects. It is spread among the animals by aerosols, direct and indirect contact and infected pigs that display no symptoms.
Figures updated: By Monday, the new H1N1 strain had been implicated in the deaths of seven people, and was suspected of killing more than 100 others in Mexico. As many as 1,600 Mexicans may be infected and the virus has been confirmed in 40 people in the United States. No U.S. deaths have been reported.
So far, the virus has been found in six people in Canada. No deaths have been reported and no cases have yet surfaced in Ontario.
At a Sunday news conference, Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s health minister, told CBC.ca that more cases would likely surface in Canada. BF
See related story:
Flu hits pork prices