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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wannabe 'beef king' bullish on 'disease-free' cattle

Wannabe 'beef king' bullish on 'disease-free' cattle

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Cambodian cattle enjoy their prepared menu of mixed brewery waste, palm oil and tapioca at the Sihanoukville feedlot of Mong Reththy Palm Oil and Tapioca Plantation. When ready, the cattle will be shipped live to Malaysia for killing and processing into "clean" beef products.

Mong Reththy - rubber tycoon, palm oil king and now Cambodia's first cattle baron.

Or at least that's the plan.

After months of reading newspaper headlines of Europe's mad cow disease and watching

news footage of huge funeral pyres of foot and mouth affected cattle, Reththy smelled

opportunity.

If European beef cattle had lost the credibility of beef eaters globally, then it

was time for Cambodian cattle to fill the gap, he decided.

In January Reththy began a joint venture with a Malaysian businessman to breed Cambodian

cattle for export to countries fearful of BSE or foot and mouth disease-infected

cattle.

"I know that the cows in Europe have problems," Reththy explained as the

showed the Post around his Route 4 cattle ranch.

"This is a good time to start this business and to build up our national reputation

as a cattle exporter."

Reththy is no stranger to business risk. After making his fortune rebuilding Cambodia's

rubber industry in the 1980s, he went on to invest heavily in palm oil and tapioca

plantations with mixed success.

But the export of "clean" Cambodian beef cattle is proving his surest bet

yet, he says, with more than 1,000 head of cattle currently grazing on the Sihanoukville

feedlot and the first exports to Malaysia expected to begin in May.

"Approximately 1,200 cattle will eventually be shipped to Malaysia every month,"

Reththy said.

With the European beef industry crisis steadily worsening and Cambodia within three

days shipping time to neighboring SE Asian markets, Reththy says the future prospects

for his cattle couldn't be better.

"There is no limit on the numbers of cattle we are capable of exporting,"

he said confidently.

The cattle that Reththy is raising were sourced, he says, from farmers around the

country. Reththy bought only steers, explaining that female cattle would be used

strictly for breeding purposes to allay fears that he was undermining the Kingdom's

cattle reproduction capacity.

Cambodian cattle farmers interviewed at a Chruoy Changvar cattle auction station

expressed warm support for the new market offered by Reththy's venture.

"I'd rather sell to [Reththy] than to the Cham slaughterhouses because [Reththy]

offers a more consistent, fairer price," a cattle farmer told the Post. "

Suy Phoneath, a graduate of Department of Animal Production of Chamcar Doung Agriculture

Faculty of Health, and Reththy's cattle supervisor, said extreme care had been taken

to avoid the "mistakes" of European cattle breeding and fattening.

Noting that the Europe's BSE epidemic has been linked to the consumption of cattle

feed tainted with scrapie-infected sheep brains, Phoneath notes that Reththy's cattle

feed formula is "completely natural".

"The cattle feed consists of tapioca, palm oil remains, rice bran, rice husks,

brown sugar, grass and salt," he said. "The feeding regime allows the cattle

to gain between 0.8 to 1.2 kilograms a day, making them export-ready within 70 to

90 days."

Two Malaysian agricultural experts are also on staff to ensure what Reththy says

are "strict international standards" at the ranch.

Reththy admits that his cattle raising venture was in part motivated by the prices

for quality steak at some of Phnom Penh's more upmarket restaurants.

"Foreign steak costs at least $15 per dish, which is triple what it costs in

other countries," Reththy said. "I want to reduce that price to $4 to $5

a dish with locally produced, international standard beef."

But the tycoon also insists that patriotism has also played a part in his export

beef venture.

"Our great national reputation will grow," he says of the spin-off effect

his cattle export business will have on Cambodia as a whole. "The international

community will realize that Khmer cattle have no disease."

Meanwhile, Reththy notes with more than passing interest the woes of Europe's cattle

industry and rehearses the message he will be taking to beef buyers worldwide:

"Our quality is of international standard, and you don't have to worry about

disease."

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