UAE bans pork to combat swine flu, even though it's not spread by eating pork

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates has banned the import of pork products as a precautionary measure against the spread of swine flu, a senior health policy official said Thursday.

Several countries have banned pork imports though the World Health Organization says swine flu is not spread by eating pork.

Pork products already on sale in supermarkets around most of the seven-member UAE federation would not be taken off the shelves, Mohmoud Fikree told Reuters in a phone interview, but the ban on new imports was open-ended.

"The ban will remain indefinitely, until we get a new decision from the ministry," Fikree said.

An economy ministry spokesman told Reuters that hotels had also been banned from serving pork products, but that the market for pig meat in the UAE was small, since it is a Muslim country where restrictions on the sale of pork products already apply.

Official figures were not available but two local food traders estimated the value of such imports to the UAE in 2008 at around $11 million. The UAE does not import live pigs.

The move comes as Gulf Arab countries prepare to hold an emergency meeting in the next few days to coordinate efforts to combat swine flu, which has caused jitters on Gulf Arab stock markets.

So far, no Gulf country has reported any cases of the flu. The UAE is the Middle East's main air travel hub but the country's health ministry said this week there were no restrictions on travel as yet.

The Gulf Cooperation Council includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman.

Israel Tuesday confirmed one case of swine flu, the closest the virus has come to the Arabian Peninsula.

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