Fear, Not Fact, Fuels Alarm Over Tainted Meats in Cambodia

A wave of paranoia over tainted meat has caught this impoverished and hungry nation in a strange fear of their dinner plates, aided in part by official warnings that seem to be based more in rumor than fact.

No on has died from the supposedly tainted meat, or even reported getting sick from it. Still, warnings have come about tainted cow meat, sick pigs and even chickens that sleep because of a “madness.”

The latest round in the battle against spoiled steaks came this week, when Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered 24 kg of French beef confiscated and destroyed at the airport. The move was a pre-emptive strike against mad cow disease, he said.

“We have to prevent mad cows, mad pigs and chicken from being imported into our country,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s an­nounce­ments have had disastrous effects on market sales of pork and beef, driving down prices and demand.

”My customers are afraid to eat beef,” said Nin Sam Ny, 34, a vendor in Phsar Kandal. “Most of them buy fish instead of the beef.”

Angry market vendors said Thursday that if the government wants to protect consumers, they should crack down on dirty sla­ugh­­ter­houses that sell spoiled pork and beef for sausages or cakes sold at street stands.

A vendor said the quality of imported meat should depend on the Animal Health and Pro­duction department, not rumors. She said the imported beef would never make it to the markets anyway, but would go directly to the hotels and restaurants that serve foreigners.

In Put Sar village in Takeo pro­vince, some villagers are worried about what one man called “mad chickens.” Ruonh Leng, who acts as a village nurse, has told villagers not to eat chickens that walk around in circles because they could get sick. He said there have been several instances of mad chickens recently.

“They refuse to walk straight,” he said. “And then they lay down on the ground and sleep.”

Despite warnings, however, Ruonh Leng said that some villagers have eaten the chickens. So far no one has become ill, he said.

A more likely culprit for the nation‘s ills are the waves of fear sweeping eastward from  Europe, where mad cow disease has been a real and disastrous threat.

Cambodian fears were further heightened when some “mad pigs,” thought to suffer from the Nipah virus, a sometimes deadly form of meningitis, were found in Malaysia and Thailand.

The Nipah virus, transmitted through blood or bodily fluids, does not infect people who eat tainted meat, according to health officials.

Still, the nation’s border remains closed for imported pig meat to prevent the virus’ spread.

Expert opinion on the spread of mad cow disease has so far said it is unlikely to show up in Asia, since any English animal feed imported to Asia was more likely fed to pigs or chicken. French beef exports have been banned by some countries, though the meat is now tested for the disease.

Mad cow disease has spread from the English farm where it is believed to have originated thr­ough the export of animal feed.

The feed contains the ground up remains of cattle that were in­fected with the disease, known as Bovine Spongiform Enceph­alo­pathy. Healthy cattle that eat the feed are then contaminated.

Little is known about the sickness, but it is believed that the virus spreads to humans who eat the contaminated meat, causing a fatal disease called variant Creutz­­feldt-Jakob disease. So far 80 people have died from the disease in England and two in France.

Thai authorities were so concerned about their nation’s import of English animal feed that they imposed a ban on beef from seven European nations in December, including France.

(Additional reporting by Matt Reed)



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