Swine flu fears cause pork shares to plummet

Panic over swine flu has caused pork shares to plummet, despite government assurances that the virus cannot be contracted through eating pig meat.

The recent outbreak of swine flu, which originated in Mexico, has killed over 100 people and left hundreds more seriously ill in hospital. The disease is spreading rapidly - with confirmed cases in Mexico, the US, Canada and Spain along with suspected cases Israel, New Zealand, France and Scotland.

The virus has been identified as a new subtype of H1N1, which has never before been found in pigs or humans. Laboratory tests have revealed that the new strain contains genetic material from variations of swine, human and bird flu. The hybrid virus can be passed from human to human, prompting warnings of a global pandemic.

Industry and health officials have been quick to dismiss fears that the virus could be contracted through eating pork, pointing out that there is no evidence of the disease being transmitted through consumption of properly prepared pig meat.

UK chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, said: There is continual surveillance of pigs in this country and there is currently no evidence of this variant of the disease. Swine Influenza cannot be transmitted by eating pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products is perfectly safe.

Despite these assurances, shares in British sausage skin maker Devro and pork supplier Cranswick have fallen over concerns that shoppers will avoid pork products in the same way that they avoided poultry during the bird flu scare.

The outbreak has also had a profound affect on international markets, with China, Russia, Serbia and Idonesia all issuing bans on pig meat from Mexico and parts of the US. Others have stepped up screening of pig meat and pig meat products.

Gibbens said that exisiting EU rules, which prevent imports of all live pigs and pig meat from Mexico, will continue to be upheld.

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