The Commerce Ministry on Wednesday released a draft of the country’s first food law, which establishes a Food Safety Authority charged with protecting domestic consumers and ensuring that exports meet international standards.
The law—expected to be finalized and sent to the Council of Ministers by the end of next month—lays out a long list of punishable offenses, including selling food that contains harmful substances, mislabeling food, preparing or selling food in unsanitary conditions and operating a food business without a license.
“The law is needed because there isn’t one,” Nina Brandstrup, country representative for the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said Wednesday after a workshop on the law at the InterContinental Hotel in Phnom Penh.
“Cambodia has the ambition to become a major food exporter, and in order for that to happen, they need to respect the food laws of other countries and they can only do that if they have a well-performing food law in Cambodia,” she said.
Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol, who will appoint the head of the Food Safety Authority—to be composed of representatives from various ministries—said the law was crucial to giving consumers confidence in the food for sale in the country.
“It is the most important aspect of the safety of our people and safety for all of us,” Mr. Chanthol said. “We are consumers of food, so it is important that we feel comfortable when we eat the food and we’re sure that it’s good, with less chemicals that can destroy our health.”
Mr. Chanthol said the law would improve enforcement of existing regulations that fall under the purview of Camcontrol, the ministry’s customs inspection unit.
Keam Makarady, health program director for Cedac, an agricultural NGO, said improvements in Camcontrol’s performance in ensuring the safety of food imports and exports were long overdue.
“The work that has been done by Camcontrol is little, limited and incomplete,” Mr. Makarady said. “Some unsafe products are already in the market…so consumers face health problems when eating and using those unsafe products.”
Drafted by the FAO and relevant government ministries in consultation with local and international lawyers, along with representatives of the private sector, work on the law began in February 2014 and a finished draft is set to be completed within six weeks.
During a question-and-answer session at the end of Wednesday’s workshop, participants asked how the law would be enforced, how its implementation would be funded, and who would be responsible for drafting specific sub-decrees to expand upon vague provisions in the law.
Emmanuelle Bourgois, a legal consultant who assisted in drafting the law, said the details could be ironed out after the law was approved, bringing Cambodia more in line with international requirements for food exports.
“There will be room for more regulations to be developed under the Food Safety Authority,” she said.
Ms. Brandstrup of the FAO said the concerns raised during the session were understandable.
“Some of the questions reflect that people are concerned about implementation, and I think this is a valid concern. One thing is having the law, but you can have the best law in the world, but if it’s not possible to implement it, then it’s really for nothing,” Ms. Brandstrup said.
“Some adaptation will be required,” she said.