Egypt has ordered an immediate culling of all its pigs as a precaution against swine flu, sparking clashes with farmers.
“It has been ordered to immediately begin the slaughter of all herds of pigs in Egypt,” Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali told reporters after meeting President Hosni Mubarak.
There have been several suspected cases of the multi-strain virus in Israel, which is believed to be a mix of human, pig and bird flu strains.
No cases have been reported in Egypt, but the nation is still taking heavy precautions because it was one of the countries to be most affected by the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu which killed 26 people.
But the World Health Organisation (WHO) says the virus cannot be caught by eating pork and that there is no evidence showing that pigs are spreading the flu to humans.
At a news conference in Geneva, WHO\’s acting assistant director General Keiji Fukuda said “This appears to be a virus which is moving from person to person.”
The World Organisation for Animal Health says the virus had not been found in animals so far.
Clashes with farmers
The country\’s health authorities say slaughterhouses would begin the cull immediately at the fastest rate possible.
There have been reported skirmishes between farmers and government officials 25 kilometres north of the capital at Khanka.
Pig rearers set up road blocks and smashed the windscreens of vehicles used by veterinary services which were trying to take the pigs away.
“Police and veterinary services had stones thrown at them when they went to a pig-rearing area and had to withdraw, without taking any pigs,” a security official told AFP, requesting anonymity.
Egypt\’s agriculture ministry says there are 250,000 pigs in the country, belonging to and eaten by members of the Coptic Christian minority.
Pig rearers in Cairo\’s slums — mostly Christian rubbish collectors – have been outraged by the plan.
“Our pigs are healthy. They are our capital and they have no diseases,” said Adel Ishak, a rubbish collector from Manshiet Nasser, northeast of Cairo.
“How will they replace the capital if these pigs are killed?” the father of 10 told AFP.
Ayman Saad, who raises pigs in Batn al-Baqqar, said the authorities had told him he would receive compensation of about 1,200 Australian dollars per animal.
“How long will the compensation feed us for? A year? Is the government going to pay for our children\’s education?” Ishak complained.
Egypt has not released an official announcement as to if and how compensation would be delivered.