A leading animal rights group criticized Egypt on Monday for using "shocking and cruel" methods to slaughter the country's pigs over swine flu fears, responding to a YouTube video that showed men skewering squealing piglets with large kitchen knives and hitting others with crowbars
The controversy was the latest swirling around Egypt's decision to kill all the country's 300,000 pigs out of concerns they will spread swine flu. But the World Health Organization has said it is entirely unnecessary because the illness is being spread through humans.
The government decision also brought accusations that Muslims are attacking minority Christians, who breed the animals. Most Muslims consider pigs unclean and do not eat pork.
The Egyptian government has denied the claims and subsequently expanded its rationale for the slaughter to confront a long-standing hygienic problem posed by pigs raised by garbage collectors who live amid the refuse in Cairo slums.
The latest troubles started after the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper posted the video showing men standing in the backs of trucks, killing pigs with knives and crowbars and tossing them in front of a bulldozer. The piles of bleeding bodies, some of them still moving, were then transferred to larger trucks, which took them to the desert to be buried in Qalyoubiya province, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Cairo.
Mohammed Fathi el-Mugharbel, a government official supervising the operation, was shown in the video saying some of the pigs were sprayed with chemicals to paralyze and kill them before being buried.
Peter Davies, who heads the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals, called the methods "inhumane."
"I am writing to express my deepest objection and request corrective action regarding the inhumane cull of pigs being carried out in Egypt," Davies said in a letter to Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif circulated to media.
There were also protests within Egypt's parliament. Christian lawmaker Seyada Ilhami Gress expressed anger Sunday over the "government's random and inhumane way of slaughtering the pigs." Responding to the criticism, Parliament Speaker Ahmed Fathi Sorour said the killing should be done in a "civilized and humane way because animals have rights like human beings." But he did not specifically comment on the video.
Both Muslim and Christian lawmakers supported the government late last month when it issued its order to kill the country's pigs, even though no swine flu cases have been reported.
The Ministry of Agriculture issued instructions at the time that owners should kill their pigs by piercing their hearts with a needle and then slitting their throats before burying them in pits lined with quicklime.
But the video showed that those recommendations were not being heeded.
"I'm used to seeing a lot of shocking images. ... But what I saw today in YouTube is among the most shocking and cruel," said Sofia Parente, an international program manager for Davies' organization.
The head of the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends, Ahmed el-Sherbini, said in a statement published Monday in Al-Dustour newspaper that some of the pigs were being buried alive. The government said it was not aware of the practice.
"I have not seen or been informed of such treatment, but there might have been some individual cases," Hamed Samaha, the director general of veterinarian services at the Ministry of Agriculture, told The Associated Press.
The government's decision to kill the pigs initially met some resistance, with pig farmers hurling stones at Health Ministry trucks and clashing with police.
The World Health Organization says the H1N1 virus that has sickened more than 8,000 people around the world and killed 76 is being spread by humans, not pigs, and pork products are safe to eat.
Many believe the Egyptian government made the decision to slaughter the pigs to look strong in the face of the crisis. It was criticized for not taking enough precautions when bird flu first appeared in Asia in 2003 and ended up killing over two dozen people in the country.
Egyptian authorities quarantined a French family at a hospital after they arrived Monday because two of the children showed signs of fever, said Hassan Shabaan, an official at the airport's health department. The family will remain at the hospital for 24 hours while they are tested for swine flu, he said.