It is said that “beggars can’t be choosers,” but the word must not have reached Haiti. When a Mexican navy ship laden with rice, fertilizer, and emergency food kits reached its shores, it was turned away. Why? Fear about H1N1 — influenza that was initially simply referred to as the Swine Flu.
Our friends in the pork industry didn’t like that appellation and they had a point. The flu seems to be a mix of strains commonly found in birds, pigs, and humans. We have no idea if the flu originated in swine or even in Mexico. It has never been found in livestock. Even if it did originate in swine, it is absolutely irrelevant for the trade of food, since one can’t get the flu by eating pork or any other food.
This didn’t stop many countries from imposing various types of bans. Reuters provided this list, and more are being announced daily:
RESTRICTIONS ON U.S. PORK EXPORTS:
Russia – all meat (including beef and poultry) from California, Texas, New York; all pork from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Florida
China – pork and swine from California, Texas, Kansas, New York, and Ohio
South Korea – live swine, but not pork
Kazakhstan – pork from Texas, California, Kansas
Ukraine – swine, all pork and all products including pet food
Serbia – raw pork and swine
Croatia – pork and swine
Thailand – pork, swine, swine genetics, hides and skins
Philippines – all pork
United Arab Emirates – all pork
Indonesia – all pork
Honduras – swine and pork
Saint Lucia – pork, swine and pig semen
Ecuador – all pork
Dominican Republic – pork and swine
El Salvador – pork, swine and byproducts
RESTRICTIONS ON CANADIAN PORK EXPORTS:
Croatia – pork and swine
El Salvador – pork
Honduras – pork
Japan – swine
Philippines – pork and swine
South Korea – swine
Ukraine – pork and swine
In addition, there are also bans on pork and pigs from Mexico. Russia and China banned imports of pork and pigs from Mexico, as did the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Bolivia, Ecuador, Azerbaijan and many other countries.
Mexico filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against eight countries, pointing out restrictions on imports have to be science-based and there is no science to back up these restrictions. Canada also threatened to go to the WTO and the American Meat Institute Foundation (AMIF) says the various bans on U.S. pork will cost the U.S. pork industry $13.6 million a week until the restrictions are lifted.
The Secretaries of Agriculture of the United States, Canada, and Mexico issued a joint call for countries to avoid using the flu outbreak as an excuse to create trade barriers.
Indeed, the situation appears to be that governments are using the outbreak to cover all manner of motivations. In Egypt, an edict was given to kill every pig in the country, but in that overwhelmingly Islamic country, all the pigs are owned by the small Coptic Christian minority. The Coptic Christians immediately saw this action — not called for in other Muslim countries — as a thinly veiled attack on the Copts, some of whom would be impoverished by this action as the compensation being offered by the government to the pig owners was just a fraction of the fair market value.
All of us in the international trading community have an obligation to stand up at moments such as this and use our influence with government and media to urge that policy be made based on sound science with the sole goal being to genuinely protect public health.
If we abandon principles for fair trading between nations it may benefit a nation now, but there will be no principles left to protect that nation when it is a victim in the future.