Officials in Egypt have started slaughtering herds of pigs as a precaution against swine flu.

The cull of up to 400,000 of the country’s pig herd began on Thursday (30 April), despite opposition from Egyptian farmers and the United Nations.

While officials concede a cull would not block the H1N1 virus, they hope the move could quell panic.

The country has been hit hard by bird flu and the Egyptian governemtn fears another flu virus could spread quickly amongst the country’s densely-packed slums.

But the United Nationals said the cull was a “real mistake” as the virus had not been found in pigs.

Pig farmers around Cairo told Reuters news agency that they were beaten while their herds had been “kidnapped and slaughtered”.

Other farmers are reported to have been trying to hide their herds from officials.

So far about 1000 animals have been slaughtered, as well as thousands of birds.

Officials, who have stressed it is safe to eat pork, said the pigmeat will be frozen and then sold consumers.

The H1N1 virus is a misxture of bird, swine and human influenza, but is spread between people, not animals.

So far more almost 180 people have been killed by the disease in Mexico, as well as one in the United States.

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