Egypt begins pig slaughter

CAIRO: Egypt began a controversial slaughter of the nation's 250,000 pigs in earnest on Saturday, despite the WHO saying there was no evidence the animals were transmitting swine flu to humans.

One hundred pigs were slaughtered in Alexandria and government workers began transporting an estimated 28,000 pigs in Cairo's Ard el-Liwa neighbourhood to slaughterhouses, the state news agency MENA reported.

The agriculture ministry's head of infectious diseases Saber Abdel Aziz Galal told AFP that government workers were on their way to Cairo's Manshiyat Nassir slum, home to an estimated 60,000 pigs raised by rubbish collectors.

On Wednesday Egypt announced it will slaughter the nation's entire pig population after an outbreak of swine flu in other countries, even though no cases have been detected in Egypt.

The move has been widely criticised, with the UN World Health Organisation saying there was no evidence that pigs were transmitting the virus to humans.

However, UN agencies are still trying to find out if the virus behind a human pandemic alert is circulating in pigs in Mexico, warning that ongoing swine infection could "worsen" the risk to human health.

As such, possible restrictions on the movement and trade of swine livestock have not been ruled out, the WHO and Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a food safety report on Saturday.

Galal said the pigs will be tested for disease and their meat stored in freezers, for their owners to sell.

"The meat will be frozen. It's the meat of the pig owner, and some compensation, between 100 and 150 pounds (26 dollars), will be paid on top of the meat," he said.

Egyptian officials are calling the slaughter a general health measure.

"We're at stage five, the matter is now human not animal," health ministry spokesman Abdelrahman Shahine told AFP on Thursday, after the WHO raised its alert level over the flu, now called influenza A(H1N1).

"The authorities took advantage of the situation to resolve the question of disorderly pig rearing in Egypt," he said.

The pigs mostly belong to and are eaten by members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority and are reared by rubbish collectors in Cairo's shantytowns.

The city's governor, Abdel Halim Wazir, said on Friday that 70 pigs were confiscated from owners in the Batn el-Baqar slum of Cairo and slaughtered, and the sties disinfected and destroyed.

Despite the government's promise to compensate owners, one man who lost his entire herd told AFP he received nothing.

"They did not give us anything. Riot police came and government workers came and took the pigs," said Ayman Saed, a resident of Batn el-Baqar who owned 30 of the animals.

"We went with them to the slaughterhouse, and they said take the carcasses. I left everything there because I didn't know what do with them," he said.

The rubbish collectors say the cull will affect their business and wipe out a crucial source of income. They use the pigs to dispose of organic waste and sell off some of their herds once a year.

At least one clash was reported north of Cairo on Wednesday, with farmers throwing stones at veterinary officials who had come to take away their pigs.

Galal said that the government would eventually import pigs to farms removed from cities