According to several government officials, the new food safety law is of vital importance for the protection of public health and safety, as it will ensure quality food and good hygiene while helping to reduce the occurrence of various diseases.
The draft law on food safety – which has 11 chapters and 43 articles – was approved by the Senate on May 18, pending its promulgation by the King. Penn Sovicheat, undersecretary of state and spokesperson for the Department of Commerce, told the Post on May 30 that the law is a key way to protect everyone’s health by ensuring that people consume quality, safe and hygienic food to keep them healthy and avoid contracting various diseases.
“This law also ensures transparent competition, prevents counterfeit products and improves the reputation of Cambodian food products in international markets. It is also an important element to boost exports,” he added.
Ang Vong Vathana – senior minister for special missions who led a government delegation to defend the bill – said the law has the key mission of setting basic principles to promote food safety. It aims to promote public welfare and protect consumer interests, while making a major contribution to poverty reduction.
“This law will enable Cambodia to prepare a modern food safety system by establishing preventive measures and controlling production lines rather than inspecting and analyzing finished products,” he said.
Bun Sethy, a resident of Takhmao, Kandal province, confided that he often buys prepared food outside his home because after leaving work in the evening, he says he is too tired to cook and so buys food on the street.
“Actually, I am worried about food safety, but I have no choice, because the price on the street is affordable. There is a restaurant near my workplace, but it is too expensive. On the street, a box of rice and a bag of food costs only 4,000 riels, but in a restaurant, the price is double or more,” he says.
When asked if he has ever been sick from street food, he says a doctor once told him that his health was poor due to a lack of nutrients and vitamins.
“I often buy street food, but I always check if the store is clean before I buy. If the place looks messy or is littered with trash, I don’t buy from them. To date, I have never had a problem with food poisoning or diarrhea. That’s why I continue to eat street food,” he adds.
While he thinks the new law will improve safety standards, he is concerned that it will limit the sale of street food. He wonders if they will be able to meet the high standards set by the new law while remaining affordable.
Lon Ry, a vendor in front of Phsar Chas market in Daun Penh district, said she had not heard about the new law, so she could not say whether it would affect her work or not.
“I applaud our country for this law and I hope that when it is enacted, street vendors will not have problems. For me, good hygiene and safe food are important principles.”
“I practice both regularly to protect the health of my customers and my own family,” she says.
Ry added that she is not worried about fines or inspections because she follows good hygiene practices.
Sovicheat said the ministry would inspect the activities of market and street vendors, urging them to maintain good hygiene and ultimately improve quality to attract tourists:
“Street and market stalls are the food destinations that serve the tourism sector and the livelihoods of middle and low-income people. They must maintain high standards of hygiene, as hygiene is the guarantor of quality and safety,” he says.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 220 million children suffer from diarrhea each year and 96,000 children die from food safety issues. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of diarrhea and malnutrition that threatens the nutritional status of the most vulnerable.
Sok Silo, secretary general of the Council for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), said that between 2015 and 2021, a total of 4,699 cases of food poisoning were recorded. Citing the food bureau under the Department of Drugs and Food of the Ministry of Health, he said 119 of these cases turned out to be fatal.
“Hazardous food is a global health threat to everyone, but infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and the sick are particularly vulnerable,” he says.
Original French article written by Mom Kunthear & CG with The Phnom Penh Post