Christian pig farmers in Egypt have clashed with police in the country's capital of Cairo, as they tried to stop their pigs being slaughtered.
About 300 to 400 people at the Manshiyat Nasr outskirts blocked the streets and threw stones and bottles at policemen while they were trying to cull pigs. The police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets and arrested several protesters.
The Egyptian government wants to cull all the nation's pigs, a move United Nations experts say is not necessary to prevent the Mexican H1N1 influenza outbreak – thought to be linked to pigs early last week.
The Egyptian authorities initially said the swine cull was a precaution against this type of flu but now describe as a general public health measure. There have been no cases of this type of influenza reported in Egypt.
In addition, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has repeatedly said that the newly mutated H1N1 virus is not found in pigs – although the animals can be the vessels for the 'genetic reassortment' that produces new strains – and that pork meat is safe to eat.
Pigs in Egypt
There are estimated to be about 300,000-400,000 pigs in Egypt. Pig farming and pork consumption in Egypt is concentrated in the country's Coptic Christian minority, estimated at 10% of the population.
Many of the Egyptian pigs are reared in slum areas by rubbish collectors who use the pigs to dispose of organic waste. They say the slaughter will harm their businesses and it has renewed tensions with Egypt's Muslim majority.
On Saturday, health officials began the cull, moving in on a Cairo slum where rubbish collectors keep approximately round 60,000 hogs. Allegedly, the cull is aimed at bringing order to the country's pig-rearing industry, so that in future animals are not reared on rubbish tips but on proper farms.
Officials said that the farmers would be offered compensation of 1,000 Egyptian pounds (€135) per pig but among pig farmers, there seemed to be little confidence that the money would ever materialise.
CNN reported that three wild boars had been put to sleep in Iraq on Friday because of Mexican flu fears, a zoo official said. The decision to kill the ten-year-old wild boars in Baghdad was a precautionary measure by the government to prevent an outbreak of of H1N1 flu, said Adel Musa, the zoo director.
It was done 'to break a barrier of fear' zoo visitors had developed in recent days because of the spread of the Mexican flu worldwide, he said. The animals were tested prior to being put to sleep and found not to carry the virus.
Related news items:
OIE condems culling of pigs (May 1, 2009)
Swine flu: Egypt orders slaughter of all pigs (April 30, 2009)
World Health Organization (WHO)