Why are some countries banning pork imports?

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April 27 2009 6:30 PM

Why Are Some Countries Banning Pork Imports?

Do they know something about swine flu that we don't?

Click here to read more from Slate on the swine flu. 

Global anxiety over the swine flu epidemic swelled over the weekend, with 40 cases of the flu confirmed in the United States alone. In response, a handful of countries announced a ban on pork imports from Mexico and parts of the United States. Why are countries banning pork imports?

To quell public fears—and maybe to help their bottom lines. World Health Organization officials have emphasized that you can't get swine flu from properly cooked pork, and they haven't recommended any bans on the meat. When the secretary of agriculture for the Philippines announced a ban on Saturday, he explained it was merely a "precautionary measure" and noted the lack of evidence for a link between pork consumption and the flu strain.

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Some of the countries that announced bans might be particularly sensitive to the possibility of pork-related hysteria. The Chinese and the Russians, for instance, are among the world's top importers of pork. (More than half of the meat consumed in China is pork.) They might also have their own economic interests at heart: Russia's government in particular has been increasingly hostile toward imported meat in recent years, increasing tariff duties, instituting import quotas, and dramatically increasing safety requirements. Representatives of the American pork and meat industries have accused some foreign governments of willfully ignoring scientific facts in order to advance protectionist agendas.

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Noreen Malone is a senior editor at New York magazine.

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