* French ban to protect market from pig virus
* PEDv killed millions of piglets in North America, Asia
* Ban will not include pork meat imports for humans
* France 1st EU member state to impose ban, hopes for more (Adds details, background)
By Sybille de La Hamaide
PARIS, May 2 (Reuters) - France will ban imports of live pigs, pig byproducts and pig sperm from the United States, Canada, Mexico and Japan to combat a virus that has killed millions of piglets in North America and Asia, a farm ministry official said.
The ban, due to be published on Saturday, aims to protect France from Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv), which has killed around 7 million young pigs since first being identified in the United States almost a year ago.
The disease has reduced hog supplies in the United States and sent prices to record highs.
"This disease worries us because the economic consequences would be dramatic if it hit our farms, in Europe and notably in France," Jean-Luc Angot, deputy director general and chief veterinary officer at the French farm ministry, told Reuters on Friday.
France is not a significant importer of live pigs and sperm but does import some feed containing pig byproducts, Angot said. He could not provide an immediate figure.
Animal feed has been identified as a transmission factor of the disease in the United States.
Blood products such as pig plasma are commonly used around the world in the diets of piglets after they have been weaned - a practice that spreads the disease, according to Bernard Vallat, head of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
AWAITING EU DECISION
France's ban did not include pork meat and other products for human consumption, because the disease is not dangerous to humans, Angot said.
France is the first EU country to restrict imports of U.S. pigs. China, the world's No. 1 pork consumer, and Japan have already imposed "temporary restrictions" on U.S. pig imports until their ministries reach deals with the United States on testing animals, a trade group said.
Angot said he had presented the proposal to the European Commission at a meeting last month with experts from other EU member states but that, while major pork producers such as Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark were interested, the EU executive did not accept the idea to ban imports.
"It is a suspension while waiting for a European decision," he said, adding that he was still confident an EU-wide move could be adopted due to the risks if the virus were to enter the bloc.
"When you see the numbers, there is a reason to be worried. There are few diseases that have such a high mortality rate at such a large scale," Angot said. (editing by Jane Baird)
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