Following other Asian countries, Cambodia moved to ban US beef imports Friday due to the discovery of mad cow disease in the US, a Commerce Ministry statement said.
Commerce Ministry officials informed border checkpoint authorities on Friday afternoon to temporarily stop all beef imports.
“The ministry hopes all vendors, importers and authorities will follow the order,” Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said in a statement.
In 2002, Commerce Ministry statistics show that the country imported about $5,800 of US meat. China, which is not considered a large market for US beef, imported $42 million through the first eight months of this year.
Japan, South Korea, China and Thailand all halted US beef imports in response to the mad cow disease case.
Before the government issued the ban on Friday, some supermarkets around Phnom Penh said they would stop buying US beef, which is mostly eaten as steaks in expensive restaurants or at the hamburger joints that have popped up around town.
“If Thailand already gave a warning to their people, we should do the same,” said Pich Chanthy, general manager of Arona supermarket, located on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard. Arona has stopped ordering beef from overseas, he said. The supermarket typically sells only a few kilograms of US beef per day to foreigners and some restaurants.
Pencil Supercenter, in addition to cutting off purchases of US beef, has also stopped buying beef from Australia because it imports beef from the US.
“After we finish the old stock of Australian beef, we will not purchase more,” said Kheoun Seila, administrative manager at Pencil. “We don’t want to make a problem for people’s health.”
Many Phnom Penh supermarkets sell neither US nor Australian beef. “We sell only Khmer fresh beef,” said a supervisor at Big A supermarket.
Sok Heang, the municipality’s veterinarian who also runs an animal clinic on Monireth Boulevard, said that beef from an infected cow is not a problem to eat if it’s cooked properly. But he still advised both Cambodians and foreigners to eat Cambodian beef instead of US or Australian beef.
“Our Khmer beef is so natural,” he said. “We don’t have a cow farm, so the natural one is safer.”
Health officials played down the threat. “I’m not concerned about the mad cow,” said Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Health. “Our people mainly eat Khmer beef. I’m not worried.”