Agriculture Ministry Accused of Empowering Pork Monopoly, High Prices Feared for Chinese New Year
Pork vendors in Phnom Penh said they will meet with government officials today to discuss their demands that the Ministry of Agriculture reverses its recent measure to ban domestic pig farmers from directly supplying the capital’s vendors and slaughterhouses.
Vendors said the ban on direct distribution favors authorized middle-men who are using their control over the supply of pork to drive up pork prices in the city.
The vendors’ demands for a level playing field comes ahead of this month’s Chinese New Year festival that traditionally sees a huge surge in the sale of pork.
San Chanthet, 51, a pork vendor at Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district who represents a group of vendors and slaughterhouses owners, said yesterday that the ministry had invited the group’s representatives to discuss their complaints today.
“They will organize the meeting [today],” Mr Chanthet said, adding the vendors wants the ministry to lift the sales restrictions on pork, implemented in early December, and break up the dominance of the authorized suppliers.
“Our vendors have a plan to hold a protest if the ministry does not find a solution for this problem,” he added.
Last week, a group of around 460 pork vendors and slaughterhouse owners signed a petition addressed to the Phnom Penh municipal animal health department, which accused local companies Yuvak Peanic, Mekong Peanic, Nguon Socheth Development and the Tho Kimsreang firm of joining forces to control the import of pigs from Thailand and to also artificially inflate prices of the pigs they are transporting into Phnom Penh.
Company officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr Chanthet, a representative of the signatories, complained that the companies had recently clustered together in Dangkao district’s Trapaing Krasaing commune in order to be able to control the capital’s pork market.
“If the four companies are located in one place they will sell their pigs at the same price, in this way they can set up prices the way they want,” he said.
He added that he was concerned the companies would further increase pork prices ahead of the Chinese New Year on Feb 14.
“I am afraid the companies will take this opportunity to increase pork prices and it will be hard for the consumers to get pork,” Mr Chanthet said, adding, “I heard they plan to increase the price by 200 riel or 300 riel [per kilo] more.”
A pig butcher at Phsar Kandal market in Daun Penh district who only gave his name as Thoeurn, said pig prices had increased from 8,200 riel to 9,500 riel per kilogram in the past month alone, adding, “I lose income every day since the price of pigs increased.”
“If [pork sellers] all protest, I will join them as well. I am not afraid to protest because I want a free market, not a monopoly market,” he said.
Ly Meng, 48, a pig trader, said last week that Economic Police confiscated 52 pigs that he had transported from Prey Veng province to Phnom Penh.
“Now Cambodian pigs are banned from being transported to Phnom Penh and I don’t know why they do this,” he said.
“The Economic Police [first] accused me of importing pigs from Vietnam…but when they checked and found these pigs are Cambodian, they still kept them,” Mr Meng said.
Kao Phal, director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s department of animal health and production, claimed on Sunday that his ministry had imposed a ban on the selling of domestic pigs in the capital in order “to protect public health interests.”
Mr Phal claimed some locally raised pigs carried viruses that could be transmitted from animal to human during consumption and he mentioned the H1N1 swine flu virus and H5N1 avian influenza virus as examples of the types of viruses that the sales ban is aimed at preventing.
Mr Phal also defended the dominant market position of the pig-importing companies.
“It’s not a monopoly [position] since [the import] helps meet domestic pork demand,” he claimed.
Yang Saing Koma, director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, said the government should support domestic pork production, which he said was still weak, instead of stifling its sales by imposing limits on free trade.
“[I]t should be in the interest of the Ministry of Agriculture to promote local agricultural production, it’s difficult to understand this measure,” he said. (Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)