France will wait for the outcome of a European Union meeting before deciding whether to go ahead with a unilateral ban on imports of pigs and pig by-products from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Japan, the farm ministry said.
The ban had been due to be issued on Saturday in a bid to ward off a virus that has killed pigs in North America and Asia. The virus, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), has killed around 7 million young pigs since first identified in the United States almost a year ago.
"We have suspended the publication of the decree. We are waiting for the meeting tomorrow," a spokeswoman for France's agriculture ministry said on Monday.
"If there is no agreement (to ban imports at the meeting), our national authorities will go ahead with their decision," she said. "This gives a chance to take a collective approach."
The subject was added on Friday to the agenda of a regular meeting of experts representing EU member states to be held on Tuesday, a spokesman for the European Commission, the EU executive, said.
Germany and Denmark, two of the European Union's largest pork producers, have said they would hold back from taking any decision on the matter until the EU meeting.
The French farm ministry's deputy director general and chief veterinary officer had said last week the ban would target pig by-products, live hogs and sperm, and would chiefly affect animal feed, with current exports mainly coming from Canada.
Restrictions would not include pork meat for human consumption as the disease is not harmful to humans, he said.
Since January 2014, eight live pigs have been imported into France from the United States and two from Canada for breeding, a French farm ministry spokeswoman said on Monday.
She did not have immediate data for banned by-products, which include dried blood plasma, pig hair, manure and "articles to chew" such as bones and are used to feed animals.
Animal feed is suspected to have been involved in transmission of the disease.
Canada decried France's willingness to limit imports.
"It is disappointing that the French government is moving forward with this measure not founded in science," Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told Reuters in an emailed statement.
Canada would try and restore access into the French market for live hogs and pork by-products and, internally, continue to work with pork producers to ensure that appropriate biosecurity protocols are in place, he said.
The virus has cut hog supplies in the United States and sent prices to record highs.
Tyson Foods Inc, the largest U.S. meat processor, said on Monday it expects pork supplies to be down as much as 4 percent this year due to PEDv. (Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Theopolis Waters in Chicago; editing by Jane Merriman and Keiron Henderson)