First Shipment Of Australian Cattle Arrives in Sihanoukville

A ship carrying 2,766 head of Australian cattle dropped anchor off the coast of Sihanoukville on Thursday night and will this morning offload the first delivery of beef cows from the Pacific nation since Phnom Penh and Canberra finalized health protocols two years ago, the importer said on Thursday.

The ship is expected to dock at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port at about 6 a.m. today, and the cattle will be transported to facilities owned by SLN Meat Supplies within three hours, according to the Cambodian company’s managing director, Hor Sim Leang.

The cows, each weighing between 370 and 600 kg and costing up to $1,900, are expected to fetch between $10 to $20 per kg once slaughtered, Mr. Sim Leang said. While more expensive than locally reared cattle the meat will be up to 40 percent cheaper than imported frozen beef, he said.

“Beef slaughtered in Cambodia will be much cheaper and fresher [than imported meat], so middle-class and poor people will be able to afford it,” Mr. Sim Leang said.

The meat will be hygienically stored and transported in refrigerated trucks and distributed nationwide at supermarkets, restaurants and public markets, he said.

Following the initial shipment, a second delivery of nearly 2,000 cattle in mid-July will mark the beginning of up to four deliveries per month, he added.

SLN’s venture in Cambodia comes amid a decline in Australia’s live cattle exports, according to a May report by Meat & Livestock Australia, an industry group. The report blames greater competition, especially from the U.S., for an 11 percent year-over-year drop in exports between January and April.

Im Vannarith, a spokesman for SLN, said it took about a week for the cattle to reach Cambodia and that the animals would today be transported to feedlots at SLN’s slaughterhouse in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nop district. The heaviest among them, he said, would be slaughtered in about a week, allowing them to “recover from sea-sickness, stress and being frightened.”

Ashley James, manager of Northern Australia and Southeast Asia section for Frontier International, one of five livestock export companies supplying SNL, said the smaller cows, some as young as 18 months old, would be kept for up to 100 days in feedlots attached to the abattoir, and fed a diet of locally grown corn, grass and cassava.

He said 90 percent of the Frontier International’s regional exports go to Indonesia, with the rest going to Thailand and now Cambodia.

SLN’s facilities, which include German- made slaughtering equipment, meet both Cambodian standards and those of the Australian government’s Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System, Mr. James said.

The latter requirements were introduced when the Australian government banned exports of live cattle to Indonesia for a month in 2011 after reporters documented mistreatment of cows in slaughterhouses.

The rules were intended to ensure that international animal welfare standards were followed at all stages of the export process, including slaughter at the destination.

In a report last year, the Australian government credited the system with protecting the livestock export industry but acknowledged its hasty implementation had not been without problems, including a burdensome regulatory administration.

Steve Billington, of Steve’s Steakhouse in Phnom Penh, said that while cattle imports had potential, he would withhold judgment until he learned more, as frozen beef may still provide the best quality.

“The jury is out until we know,” he said. The cattle “will be in trauma from the shipping, so will need some feeding and rest after being unloaded…. The meat then needs to be aged for a week, and properly chilled.”

Mr. Billington, who prefers U.S. beef, said domestic consumers were also unlikely to be tempted by higher quality at higher prices.

“Local beef is $10 a kilo at the market,” he said. “They won’t pay 1 penny more for better beef.”

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