Officials on Sunday morning seized seven vehicles and their cargoes of 159,000 duck eggs from Vietnam, whose poultry and poultry products were banned in the wake of that country’s avian influenza outbreak.
“It is the first time we have confiscated large amounts of eggs being transported along National Route 3 in Takeo province,” said Chhun Sopheak Mongkol, a Takeo provincial customs official who participated in the crackdown.
Some of Vietnam’s bird flu cases reportedly broke out in its southern Mekong River delta provinces near the border with Cambodia. Before last week’s embargo, farmers there regularly exported their eggs to Cambodia.
Importation of poultry and eggs from countries known to contain the bird flu was banned by the Ministry of Agriculture on Jan 12 and then by the Ministry of Commerce on Friday.
At about 2 am on Sunday, oxcarts carried the eggs into Cambodia, where they were transferred to the beds of seven Nissan pick-up trucks for the trip to Phnom Penh, Chhun Sopheak Mongkol said.
About a half-hour later, the convoy was overtaken in Takeo’s Tram Kak district after customs officials were tipped off about its cargo.
Chhun Sopheak Mongkol said that more than 10 officials from the provincial customs department, provincial police, military police and Camcontrol, the Ministry of Commerce’s quality inspection department, took part in the operation.
“It was a big success that we could do this in order to keep the Cambodian people from buying and eating eggs that could carry the bird flu,” Chhun Sopheak Mongkol said.
The World Health Organization issued a statement last week saying that humans could not contract the bird flu by consuming infected fowl.
On Friday, Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema issued a directive telling farmers and vendors to stop buying and selling all kinds of food containing fowl until a new directive instructs otherwise. He also appealed to Phnom Penh authorities to enforce his ban.
It could not be determined on Sunday if the eggs found in Takeo were infected with the bird flu. They were sent for testing at the Camcontrol provincial office in Takeo, but the telephone there was turned off. Chhun Sopheak Mongkol said he did not know if the eggs would be destroyed.
Chhun Sopheak Mongkol also would not comment on the fate of the egg smugglers and referred questions about them to police officers. But police officials could not be reached for comment.
Kao Phal, director of the Department of Animal Health and Production at the Ministry of Agriculture, said Sunday that there are no known cases of the bird flu among humans or birds in Cambodia.
Some Cambodian chickens died unexpectedly in recent weeks, but Kao Phal said that either an avian virus known as Newcastle disease or cholera was likely to blame. He said he sent samples from their carcasses to France on Jan 13 for testing and hopes to have results next week.
The WHO said last week that there are no known cases of the disease—whose symptoms a local health official compared to pneumonia—being passed from person to person.
News reports have attributed bird flu infection among humans to contact with bird feces.
Health officials have confirmed that the disease has taken the lives of two children and one adult in the Hanoi area.
Health officials suspect that the respiratory illness was responsible for a death in southern Vietnam on Sunday, but that case is still being investigated, news reports said Sunday.