France has suspended imports of live pigs from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Japan to try to prevent the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus entering the country, the French agriculture ministry announced Friday.

The ban also extends to any products containing pork for animal feed. France is the first European country to take such action.

"Imports of live pigs, semen and all products containing pork for animal feed coming from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Japan have been suspended pending a European decision," the ministry said.

The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea(PED) virus has wiped out millions of pigs in the US and led to an increase in prices.

Imports of pork and processed pork products intended for human consumption to France will continue as the virus cannot be transmitted to humans and "poses no health problems", the ministry added.

Although figures for how many pigs France imports from these four countries remains confidential, since January fewer than 10 pigs have been imported from the US and two from Canada, according to official figures.

The PED virus spreads among the pig population through contact with contaminated soil. It first appeared in the 1970s, but the current virus is a more virulent strain.

No effective vaccine for the virus exists at present.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]