Upwards of 2,000 MPs, senators and Parliament Hill staff showed up for a noon hour barbecque in the historic East Block courtyard May 6 in support of the country’s beleaguered pork producers.
The Canadian Pork Council was hoping 300 to 400 people would accept the offer of a pork sandwich, veggies and cookies to show pork farmers they believe the government’s message that properly cooked pork is safe even with the H1N1 Influenza A flu virus that was found in a small Alberta pig herd.
When Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz signed on as co-sponsor for the event, it became a Parliament Hill must attend. By noon, it was a 15-to 20-minute wait to get through the lineup for the food.
Ritz and Jurgen Preugschas, chairman of the Canadian Pork Council, were among the celebrity servers at the event.
Representatives from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association also showed up and even several ambassadors from countries that haven’t banned Canadian pork.
Speaking to reporters, Ritz blasted countries such as China that have imposed bans on Canadian pork since the flu virus was found on a small Alberta pig farm. The farm was quarantined while the pigs are treated.
“These bans are not based in science,” he said. “There’s no basis for these types of trade action.” He said the strong show of support should send a message to other Canadians that pork is safe. “You’re showing them it’s wholesome. This gathering sends a great signal to the farmers and the rest of the world.”
Meanwhile the government is working hard to counter the foreign bans, he said.
He saluted USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack for his clear message that pork is safe and that countries shouldn’t be imposing bans.
Preugschas said in an interview the outbreak was triggered by a farm worker who had been in Mexico where he helped build a church. He starting working the day after he returned from Mexico. That was before the knowledge of the flu became widespread. By contrast, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is asking its employees who have been in contact with the flu to stay away from livestock for 30 days.
The council has urged farmers to follow proper biosecurity measures. “Producers must continue to be vigilant,” said Jean-Guy Vincent, first vice-chair of the Canadian Pork Council, “particularly with personal hygiene measures such as handwashing and showering.”