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‘Virus-contaminated’ meat imported from India seized

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The Kingdom last month lifted a ban on the import of frozen meats and other frozen items classified as ‘high-risk’ originating from India. AFP

‘Virus-contaminated’ meat imported from India seized

Three containers of frozen buffalo meat imported from India allegedly found to be contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 are due to be incinerated “in the near future”, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise of Cambodia (GDCE).

Authorities found that the consignment, having reached the compound of private firm Trikud Dry Port Co Ltd, was tainted with the novel coronavirus, the GDCE said in a letter signed by director-general Kun Nhim and dated July 21.

An ad hoc commission is responsible for taking measures to destroy frozen meats and other chilled goods determined to be contaminated with the virus, in accordance with Article 2 of Proclamation 304 dated May 5, it noted.

“In this regard, in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and on behalf of the ad hoc commission, I request the president of the company to join the Joint Working Group to take action to destroy the frozen buffalo meat in the containers found positive for the Covid-19 virus, in accordance with the procedures in force in the near future,” the GDCE said.

The decision to incinerate the meat comes after a Ministry of Health letter – signed by director-general for Health Technology and dated July 19 – indicated that the three containers of frozen meat out of five imported from India by Bovini Food Co Ltd and Ashary Investment and Construction Co Ltd were tainted with the pathogen.

The Indian embassy in Phnom Penh on July 27 urged the government to retest the meat to confirm the results, “if possible, in an advanced lab in Singapore”, saying that the two Indian exports concerned had stored samples tested in ISO 17025 accredited labs in India, which turned up negative for the virus.

“The findings of a genome, if any, is not an indication of an active infection since the containers left India in April 2021 and reached Cambodia in July 2021,” it said, adding that there is little scientific evidence proving that the virus could survive on food or packaging for such an extended period of time.

Coronaviruses need live animal or human hosts to survive and reproduce, and food packaging surfaces simply cannot cut it, it said, adding that no country had ever reported a coronavirus contamination in frozen foods, packaging or surfaces.

To date, there is no significant research suggesting that pathogens that cause respiratory diseases, such as SARS-CoV-2, can be spread to humans through food or packaging, the embassy said, citing the World Health Organisation and International Meat Secretariat.

“Stringent protocol and Good Management Practices at the highest level [are] implemented by the Indian exporters to produce and export quality meat,” the embassy said.

Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine has asked the public to prepare and store food with the virus in mind to avoid health problems related to Covid-19.

“Certain studies have shown that Covid-19 can survive on frozen food, though the virus cannot contaminate the food. In this sense, the Ministry of Health would like to inform the public that if they practice food hygiene measures, individuals will not get Covid-19 from food,” she said.

Cambodia on May 1 imposed an indefinite ban on imports of frozen meat and other frozen goods considered “high risk” originating from India in an apparent preventive measure to contain the spread of Covid-19 amid a devastating second coronavirus wave in the regional economic power.

The ban was lifted a month later, in response to a plea made by Indian ambassador to Cambodia Devyani Khobragade during a meeting with Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth on June 3.

India is a major supplier of buffalo meat and food supplies to Cambodia, selling $17.7 million worth of buffalo meat to the Kingdom India last year, up by more than 170 per cent from $6.4 million in 2019, according to the embassy.

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