Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Official expresses concern about chemicals in food

Official expresses concern about chemicals in food

Official expresses concern about chemicals in food

090217_02.jpg
090217_02.jpg

Recent data suggests the use of chemicals on food sold in market stalls has not gone down despite education efforts

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON

A meat vendor in a Phnom Penh market sits at his stall at Central Market. Of 648 market vendors surveyed, some 266 treated their food products with chemicals.

THE application of harmful preservative chemicals to food sold in market stalls remains a threat to consumers despite efforts - some dating back more than a decade - by doctors and other officials to discourage their use.

Food vendors often use chemicals including pesticides and hydrochloric acid either to preserve food or to make it more visually appealing to customers, said Chhouv Kong Phally, director of the Health Promotion Program at the Ministry of Health, who said he's periodically visited markets since 1995 to warn about the health dangers chemicals pose. These include everything from minor ailments like headaches and diarrhoea to life-threatening diseases, notably cancer, he said.

While public awareness of these dangers has increased, he said, the chemicals themselves are still relatively prevalent. A 2008 study by CamControl officials found that of 648 Phnom Penh vendors surveyed, 266 treated their food with chemicals. Of 273 products included in the survey, chemicals were used on 121 of them, representing a decrease of less than three percent since 2007.

"We see that people understand and are careful to avoid chemicals when they buy food or eat meals [in restaurants], but what worries us is that some food in Phnom Penh [markets] still has chemicals," he said.

"I think sellers should be honest with buyers and should show more appreciation of the value of life and health," he said.

During a break between classes one afternoon last week, a group of students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh discussed their day-to-day efforts to avoid foods that have been chemically treated.

Phuong Chhunleang, 23, said he only became concerned about chemicals recently. Before, he said, he did not think the average farmer or vendor would bother to pay for the harmful preservatives.

He said he now realises that farmers have an economic incentive to do so, as the chemicals can reduce the amount of food that spoils before it is sold.

"Now I am worried about eating food that is sold in the market because I feel I am making my life shorter and shorter," he said.

He said consumers need to be vigilant in screening out chemicals from their diets, as the government has not launched a concerted effort to eliminate their use.

"I want the relevant ministry to be strict and control the chemicals used in food," he said.

Asked about his personal techniques, he said, "I don't have great methods to reduce chemicals from meat and vegetables. But I know from my friends that before I eat a vegetable, it is good to soak it in lemon juice or put salt on it."

But Chhouv Kong Phally said salt would only reduce the concentration of a preservative by 10 to 20 percent.  

Market outreach

Keang Leak, the market chief at O'Russei Market, said vendors cooperate with CamControl officials in their weekly efforts to screen food and vegetables sold there.  

"I started to focus on this problem in 1999 because I realised then that nearly 100 percent of sellers used chemicals in their food, including in meat, vegetables, noodles, sausage, meatballs, fish paste and palm sugar," he said.  

"Today, I can say that we have been largely successful in removing chemicals from their goods, and I am proud of the sellers in my market," he said.

Keo Phanha, 31, a vendor at a market in Takeo province, said she has no way of knowing whether the food she sells has been treated with chemicals.

But she said officials should not blame vendors for the use of chemicals because food is often treated by suppliers or by the factories in which it is made.

"We are very careful, but what can we do if we can't know which food has been treated?" she said.

MOST VIEWED

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • Shipwreck found off coast of Koh Kong

    Royal Cambodian Navy researchers are working to identify a decades-old shipwreck found earlier this month off the coast of Koh Kong province. Divers found the 70-metre-long wreck on April 4 about a mile from Koh Chhlam island, according to Navy officials. Deputy Navy Commander Tea Sokha,