Pork sellers are concerned that rumours of infected meat being sold in Phnom Penh’s markets could get out of hand, writes Chea Vannak.
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The meat section in Phnom Penh’s O’Russei Market on most mornings is crowded with housewives selecting the best pork cuts – from shoulders, loins and fillets – for dinner.
For Srey Leak, the mornings in O’Russei are the best time for shopping for her family’s meals and buying the right kind of pork is of utmost importance to her.
“I’m really paranoid that the meat sellers might sell me pork from diseased pigs,” Ms Leak told Khmer Times.
“I always seek assurances from sellers that they are selling local pork from Cambodia, and from nowhere else,” she added.
According to the scientific journal Nature Communications, almost every pig carries harmless strains of the S. suis bacterium.
However, the journal points out that a more virulent group of strains of the bacteria have been found to exist in pigs from Vietnam, which cause swine diseases and are a major driver of antibiotic use for prevention.
“Increasingly, this group of strains is also implicated in serious human diseases such as meningitis and septicemia,” said Nature Communications.
China stopped buying live pigs from Vietnam in November, citing quality concerns and this has resulted in an oversupply of pigs in Vietnam causing hardship to Vietnamese farmers.
For Cambodia, the smuggling of live pigs from Vietnam through unofficial border crossings seems to be a perennial problem.
Por Leangkong, director of Camcontrol’s Takeo provincial branch, said recently that if those bringing live animals through the borders can’t show proper documents to indicate their pigs are free from disease, they won’t be allowed in.
“However, we can’t do anything if they’re coming in through unofficial crossings,” he said.
Lim Sreng, a pork and beef seller in O’Russei Market, complained about her business being affected by rumours that diseased pigs from Vietnam were “freely” entering the country.
“My shop does not sell that kind of pork and I have a trusted pork supplier in Phnom Penh,” she said.
Ms Sreng said an increasing number of customers to her stall are asking her to give a firm assurance that the pork she sells is from Cambodia.
“This request is from those who don’t know me, which is troubling because it seems they don’t trust my pork.
“For my old customers, it’s not much of a problem,” she added.
Sen Sovann, director-general of the Agriculture Ministry’s general-directorate of animal health and production, said the ministry is working hard to address these rumours circulating on social media.
“We are vigorously checking all slaughterhouses in Phnom Penh to make sure the pork they sell is safe for human consumption,” said Mr Sovann.
“Our officers are also checking the meat sold in markets and so far we can say with assurance to the public, that it is safe.
“There is no infected pork in Phnom Penh,” he stressed.
Seeking to allay public fears, the Mong Riththy Group, which owns one of the largest pig farms in Cambodia, recently started to sell pork branded as “Mong Riththy Hygenic Pork”.
The agricultural conglomerate is marketing this pork in Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province.
“We want to assure the public that our pork is free from bacteria and is safe,” said Mong Riththy, the group founder and CEO.
“Once the public knows that they are getting their meat from a registered company, they would feel less frightened,” he added.
According to the Cambodia Pig Raising Association, about 8,000 pigs are needed to supply the local market every day. About 7,000 pigs are currently supplied by local farmers, while about 1,000 are imported from neighboring countries.
In late April, Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said in an announcement that his ministry will implement sanitary regulations to ensure all live-meat imports comply with animal health laws.
The ministry announcement stated that these measures were to prevent the spread of animal diseases that could be passed on to humans.
“All businessmen and companies that intend to import live animals, slaughtered animal meat and processed meat must have a valid license from the general directorate of animal health and be registered with the Ministry of Commerce,” read the announcement.
While the ministry’s announcement might offer some solace, Ms Leak, however, is not taking any chances.
“I’ve decided to cut down my family’s pork consumption and we’re instead eating more fish and chicken,” she said. “It’s better to stay safe than be sorry later.”