WTO members are worried that some countries still ban the import of pork products

Exporting countries raised concerns over some trade restrictions that have been imposed in response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic, and about failures to notify the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The concerns were raised during a meeting of the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Committee, which deals with food safety and animal and plant health.

The Committee praised countries that based their responses to the swine flu pandemic on science and criticised countries that imposed trade restrictions.

Canada, Mexico, Japan, the US, New Zealand, the EU, Brazil, Paraguay, Australia and the Dominican Republic all argued that import bans on live pigs and pork products are unjustified for dealing the swine flu pandemic. They argued the restrictions have no scientific justification.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in May this year that ‘influenza viruses are not known to be transmissible to people through eating processed pork or other food products derived from pigs’.

The US representative said not a single case of the current outbreak of H1N1 flu ‘has even been tentatively linked’ to eating pork or handling pigs.

“China said it had to act urgently because of its large vulnerable population and the burden on its public health system.

Those countries with the restrictions (Ukraine, Indonesia, China, Jordan) said the measures were temporary and had been lifted or would be lifted once the scientific evidence had been examined.

China said it had to act urgently because of its large vulnerable population, the burden on its public health system, the importance of pigs and pork, and the fact that the H1N1 virus shares some genetic make-up with influenza that affects pigs. India argued that it has scientific evidence of the risk.

Several of the exporting delegations also complained that many of the countries imposing trade restrictions have not informed fellow WTO members. Mexico said that 20 countries restricted its exports and seven still have measures in place: Armenia, Bahrain, China, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan and Surinam.

A WTO agreement requires members to notify others of the measures they introduce.

Concerns were also raised over restrictions arising from mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) and bird flu (avian influenza).

As of June 24, there were 55867 confirmed cases of swine flu worldwide and 238 deaths, according to the WHO.