Customs officers are on high alert over the possible entry of pork and meat products from China after the Agriculture Department and the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) banned the importation of these due to a new strain of the swine flu virus that can be transmitted to humans when consumed.
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Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero said the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has been closely monitoring agricultural and other food items from China to ensure that proper procedures are followed to guarantee the safety of consumers and prevent the entry of food that may contain diseases.
He said imported foods such as meat products undergo initial examination by the Department of Agriculture and BOC examiners before they are released from the ports.
“After this initial examination, the reefer container is sealed by BAI for 100 percent examination by the National Meat Inspection Service in its accredited storage warehouse,” he said.
Guerrero has directed all customs port officials to be vigilant and examine carefully all reefer containers to ensure that dangerous pork and pork-related products will not be allowed entry into the country.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar, meanwhile, appealed to businessmen smuggling pork and pork products, especially from China, not to add to the country’s problems.
“We have also elevated the quarantine measures in seaports, and port areas, and airports so we can guard against these,” he said.
Pork and chicken from China are already banned because of foot and mouth disease and bird flu, but a new swine flu called G4, genetically descended from H1N1, could cause another pandemic while the country is still grappling with COVID-19.
China on Wednesday played down the threat of a new swine flu strain with pandemic potential that researchers discovered in pigs, saying the study is “not representative.”
The deadly COVID-19 pandemic, which has now infected more than 10 million people worldwide, first emerged in China and is thought to have originated in bats and jumped to humans through an unknown intermediary animal.
The new swine flu strain found in China, according to the study published Monday in the US science journal PNAS, had “all the essential hallmarks” to infect humans and raised fears over another potential pandemic.
But China’s foreign ministry moved to play down the fears on Wednesday.
“The G4 virus mentioned in the relevant report is a subtype of the H1N1 virus,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a routine briefing.
“Experts have concluded that the sample size of the report is small and not representative.”
Zhao added that “relevant departments and experts” will continue to step up monitoring of the disease, send warnings and handle it in a timely manner.
The new G4 swine flu strain is genetically descended from the H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009, according to the study, which was authored by scientists at Chinese universities and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
G4 was observed to be highly infectious, they said, replicating in human cells and causing more serious symptoms in ferrets than other viruses.
Researchers took 30,000 nasal swabs from slaughterhouse pigs in 10 Chinese provinces, allowing them to isolate 179 swine flu viruses.
According to the study, 10.4 percent of pig slaughterhouse workers tested had already been infected.
So far, there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission. China did not elaborate further on how many had been infected by G4.
“It is of concern that human infection of G4 virus will further human adaptation and increase the risk of a human pandemic,” the researchers wrote, calling for urgent measures to monitor people working with pigs. With AFP
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