EGYPT: Pig cull hits Orthodox Christians

religion | May 12, 2009 | By IRIN 

Security trucks and personnel are deployed at each entry point to Muqattam, south of Cairo, the main dumping area for the city’s rubbish. It is also the place where, local people say, some three quarters of Egypt’s pigs are bred.

In the wake of the global swine flu outbreak, the government announced its intention to slaughter all pigs in the country, a move which has led to protests by rubbish sifters and pig breeders in Muqattam who also happen, in the main, to be a minority - Orthodox Christians.

A Health Ministry statement on 11 May by Hamed Samaha, head of the Institute for Veterinary Services (affiliated to the ministry), said 26,000 pigs had been slaughtered, whilst 131,652 pigs were yet to be culled. Other estimates have put the number of pigs in Egypt prior to the cull at 300,000-400,000.

The pig cull is leading to economic hardship for the community. “This has been our job for the past 60 years. There is no alternative for us,” said Shehata Abu Deif, who lives in “garbage city”.

His parents sift through the rubbish and also own a pig abattoir. The pigs’ food is free, as they find scraps of organic matter in amongst the garbage, and so help to reduce the volume, Abu Deif explained.
''This is our first day without pigs. We don’t know what will happen.''

Dawoud Habib, a local pig breeder, told IRIN he had just received compensation for handing over his 100 pigs for slaughter - at the rate of US$8.82 per pig. “This is our first day without pigs. We don’t know what will happen.”

The garbage collectors say they originally came to Cairo in the 1950s from agricultural communities in the upper Egyptian governorates of Sohag and Assiut.

Egypt has not reported a case of the A/H1N1 influenza virus, otherwise known as swine flu, and the pig cull plan was presented as a preventative measure.

Discrimination?

“It’s more than just swine flu,” said Abu Deif, who claimed Christian rubbish sifters were being discriminated against, even though pigs in non-Christian areas have also been slaughtered.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says pig-culling is unnecessary, but the government is still insisting on the move. Similarly, the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a statement early last week: “There is absolutely no need to slaughter animals in view of preventing circulation of the A/H1N1 virus.”

Saad Khalaf, governor of the nearby 6th October suburb, where pigs have also been found and culled, said at a press conference last week that the cull plan was a precautionary measure to head off a major threat to both those who raise pigs and the population at large.

Media reports have drawn attention to the unhygienic conditions in which most pigs in Egypt are raised. “If you compare the way pigs are raised here in Egypt and abroad, you will know where this decision comes from,” said Samia Galal, expert on environmental engineering, and consultant with the Ministry of Health. “The level of viruses that pigs here bear is quite endangering. Abroad, there are standard measures and medical controls for the raising of pigs. But here, the hygienic conditions around pig farms are highly objectionable.”

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