Even though no cases of influenza have been reported in the country, Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precaution against swine flu. The measure was a stark expression of the panic the deadly outbreak is spreading around the world, especially in poor countries with inadequate public health systems.
"It has been decided to immediately start slaughtering all the pigs in Egypt using the full capacity of the country's slaughterhouses," Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly told reporters after a Cabinet meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. The move infuriated farmers who blocked access of Health Ministry workers who came to carry out the government's order.
At one large swine farm north of Cairo, scores of angry farmers blocked the street to prevent Health Ministry workers in trucks and bulldozers from coming in to slaughter the animals. Some pelted the vehicles with rocks and shattered their windshields forcing the workers to retreat.
"We remind Hosni Mubarak that we are all Egyptians. Where does he want us to go?" said Gergis Faris, a 46-year-old pork producer in another part of Cairo who collects garbage to feed his animals. "We are uneducated people, just living day by day and trying to make a living, and now if our pigs are taken from us without compensation, how are we supposed to live?"
Pigs are banned entirely in some Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Libya. However in other parts of the Muslim world, they are often raised by religious minorities who can eat pork.
Global health experts said the mass slaughter of pigs is entirely unnecessary and a waste of resources. "It is unfortunate," the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Chief Veterinary Officer Joseph Domenech said of Egypt's decision. "The crisis today is in transmission from human to human. It has nothing to do with pigs," he told the Associated Press.