In response to a bird flu epidemic in Vietnam, Cambodia temporarily banned the import of chickens, ducks and bird eggs from countries inflicted with the illness.
Known as avian influenza, the bird flu has sickened nearly 600,000 chickens in Vietnam and is suspected in the deaths of 11 Hanoi residents. The World Health Organization said Tuesday it found the flu in two children and one adult, all of whom have died.
“This is a fast spreading disease, has a high mortality rate and has no medicine for curing,” said a Jan 12 statement by Chan Sarun, minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. “This disease affects living conditions of people, the family economy, the national economy and could affect human health.”
Bird flu outbreaks have hit Southeast Asia previously in 1997 and 2003. The 1997 outbreak, which claimed several lives in Hong Kong, had some Cambodians calling for the government to ban chicken imports.
Customs officials on Tuesday would not disclose how many bird products Cambodia imported from Vietnam in the past few years. Import statistics from 2001, however, show that the official number may be quite small.
In 2001, Cambodia imported no live animals and less than $1,000 worth of bird eggs and animal food products from Vietnam.
In comparison, Cambodia imported nearly $150,000 worth of live animals and almost $2.5 million worth of bird eggs and animal food products from Thailand.
Nonetheless, government officials say informal border trade between Cambodia and Vietnam is prevalent.
“We know that chickens and eggs are imported daily from Vietnam and we took action to prevent the illness from entering the country,” said Sun Hean, adviser to Chan Sarun at the Agriculture Ministry.
In the past year, government officials moved to prevent neighboring countries from dumping spoiled chicken on the local market.
Last March, the Sihanoukville court sentenced two people to six months in prison for shipping
3 tons of rotten chicken from Thailand to Phnom Penh.
Two months later, Banteay Meanchey provincial officials confiscated and burned about
1 ton of fetid chicken carcasses that came across the Thai border through Poipet.
Some of the bird flu cases in Vietnam have been reported in the southern Mekong river delta provinces near Cambodia.
Officials at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Animal Health and Production were working on Tuesday to determine whether any infected birds may have already crossed into the country, Sun Hean said. The department’s director, Kao Phal, could not be reached for comment.
The Ministry of Agriculture “would like to ban temporary exporting, buying, selling [of] birds, bird eggs, fresh, frozen bird meat and products made of raised, wild birds from countries that have highly pathogenic avian influenza until there is new information,” Chan Sarun wrote in the statement.
Last month, about 1.1 million infected chickens and ducks were killed in South Korea to contain the bird flu. Japanese officials said last week 6,000 chickens had died there of the disease and thousands of others would be slaughtered.
Though bird flu outbreaks have hit Japan and South Korea, ministry officials said the government was focusing on Vietnam.
“At the moment,” Sun Hean said, “we are really concerned about Vietnam because it is very close, and we import a lot of goods from there.”
(Additional reporting by The Associated Press)