Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Bun Serey yesterday told the city’s district governors to find all rice wine producers and sellers in their jurisdictions in anticipation of planned mass inspections.
The order came at a meeting between Serey, the district governors, police officers, the municipal health department, Cam Control – the Kingdom’s import-export quality control body – and alcohol industry representatives, focusing on dangerous products, especially rice wine. “All the district governors will have to find out how many places in their areas have been producing and selling rice wine”, Serey said yesterday.
He said that he hopes to submit the complete list to the Phnom Penh governor by Monday, adding that once the governor reviews the vendor list, he can send health inspectors to start checking merchandise.
Alcohol poisoning killed more than 100 people in the Kingdom in 2015, an “unexpected” increase from the number deaths in 2014, according to Health Ministry spokesman Ly Sovann.
Rice wine is often implicated in the deaths – 21 people in Kratie died and more than 170 became sick after drinking tainted rice wine since mid-November, according to the Health Ministry and Kratie officials.
The latter responded by banning rice wine temporarily. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft both completed inspections, finding that the Kratie wine contained up to 10.6 to 12 per cent methyl alcohol in each drink. This could easily raise drinkers’ methanol levels above toxic limits.
“We at the Health Ministry are very worried,” said Sovann. “There should be more inspections of producers, distributors and importers of alcohol.”
Phnom Penh officials are also concerned, though the capital only recorded one death from rice wine poisoning since this fall, the deputy governor said.
Dr Yel Daravuth, an alcohol specialist at the WHO, said that Cambodia needs a law governing all of its alcohol producers, importers and distributors.
“Inspections should be nationwide, not just province by province,” he said.
Daravuth blamed Cambodia’s “powerful” booze lobby for pushing back against alcohol regulation and called for strong licensing restrictions for alcohol distributors.
A World Health Organization study from 2014 found that about 60 per cent of Cambodian drinkers prefer informally produced alcohol.