Smuggling Sickness

Illegal Livestock Transportation Poses Many Threats

By Vorn Makara | Ec onomics Today

Illegal transportation of livestock has been a persistent problem in Cambodia, especially with pigs. The threat of disease has seen the latest in a long line of import bans, but such short term measures do little to ensure the long term viability of Cambodia’s swine raising industry.

Weak local pig production and stiff local demand results in high numbers of pigs imported from neighboring countries—legal imports are usually set at 800 pigs per day.

Every day Cambodia consumes around 4,000 pigs. The capital alone gets through approximately 2,000 daily. Feed and other costs are lower in other countries so their pigs are cheaper, even after transportation. Able to undercut Cambodian producers and still make a tidy profit, many pig transporters cross the border illegally.

Around 1,000 pigs are “smuggled freely” into Cambodia every day, claimed Srun Pov, deputy president of the Cambodia Pig Raiser Association.

Than Thoeurn, Swine Value Chain Coordinator of Micro, Small and Medium- Sized Enterprise (MSME) Department of USAID Cambodia, said that illegal transportation of the pigs affects the Cambodian market price of pigs. He called this undercutting of local farmers “pig price dumping.”

Swine raising in Cambodia is still dominated by small enterprises, which is one of the reasons the cost of production is high compared to other nations.

In neighboring countries, pigs cost from US$1.40-1.50 per kg to raise, but in Cambodia pig raisers spend US$1.70-1.80 per kg, Than Thoeurn told Economics Today. “Other countries raise pigs and make a small profit, but they raise a lot of pigs,” he explained.

Than Thoeurn said that free trade means the market will favor the cheapest source. “It is not only Cambodia which does that but also Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand import pigs from countries that have a low cost of production,” he added.

Disease is usually a death knell for livestock exports. But greedy dealers unbound by regulation pay little attention to the threat of contagion. The illegal transportation of pigs from neighboring countries has continued as Blue-Ear Disease has emerged in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.

Blue-Ear Disease or Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSV), is a virus that causes reproductive failure in breeding stock and respiratory tract illness in young pigs, often resulting in death. Initially referred to as “mystery swine disease” and “mystery reproductive syndrome” it has become a menace to pig farmers around the world.

Banned

As Blue Ear Disease decimated pig herds across the border in Vietnam, Cambodia on Aug 4 announced a total ban on pig imports from neighboring countries.

The outbreak in Vietnam was followed by an order from Hanoi instructing pig farmers to immediately slaughter any infected swine. But some farmers may have chosen to instead dump pigs across the border at knock-down prices, spreading the disease. Hundreds of pigs have been confirmed dead from the disease in the four provinces bordering Vietnam, and blue-ear may be spreading in Cambodia.

The problems of few resources are compounded by pig industry middle men and merchants who care little about quality or safety, focusing instead on profit margins.

Srun Pov said that live pigs imported from Vietnam cost CR6, 000 (around US$1.41) per kg, while the cost of production is CR8,000 (around US$1.88). The Vietnamese sellers are happy to get anything for pigs that are potentially sick, he said. Such imports are subject to no checks or examinations.

The Cambodian Department of Animal Health and Production (DAHP) cooperated with provincial animal and production offices as well as pigs raisers to test the blood of 80 pigs from Kampong Chnnang, Kandal, Kampong Cham, Takeo, Svay Reang, Prey Veng, Banteay Meanchey provinces and Phnom Penh. Eight pigs tested positive for Blue Ear, and eight pigs were positive for Classic Swine Fever (CSF).

Chea Saretha, a Kandal province pig farmer, said 30 of his pigs recently died because of the new disease outbreaks. “Now I stop raising pigs temporarily because I lose money,” he said, voicing fears the sickness would soon return.

Than Thoeurn said that Blue Ear disease outbreaks in Cambodia are dealt with as in other countries: nearby pigs euthanized and their carcasses burnt. However, smugglers can quickly undermine control efforts, he continued, as viruses can carry around 3 km in the air.

Pich Peda, Vice Chief of Animal health office at the DAHP, noted that infections can be spread by animals’ excrement or bodily fluids, making the means of transportation additional risks.

The DAHP advises pig farmers to keep pig pens sanitary, isolate sick pigs, subject new pigs to health checks, and use more modern medicines and vaccinations. While there is no specific medicine for viruses yet, other serious illnesses can be treated, said Pich Peda.

Flavor of the Month

Fearful of the affects of an epidemic in Cambodia, the Government is focusing on policing the import ban.

During an Aug 4 meeting called to address the outbreak, Kao Phal, Director of DAHP, said that imports still continue day and night. “We have to find solutions to crackdown on illegal transportation of pigs, but it is very hard,” he said.

The ban has had unintended consequences. As he ordered the halt to pig imports, Prime Minister Hun Sen said pig farmers and sellers should not increase the price of the pork. But in mid-August, he urged Cambodians to buy more pork, as many Phnom Penh consumers had sworn off swine after the sickness scares.

Long Ny, a Phnom Penh fruit seller, was one of those no longer consuming pork. “After I listened to VOA news, I heard about the Blue Ear Disease causing a lot of pigs to die. I’m afraid I will be infected if I continue eating pork so I have stopped temporarily. When that disease ceases, I will eat pork as normal,” she told Economics Today.

The DAHP and other related bodies have joined the PM in appealing for Cambodians to eat pork as normal as Blue Ear Disease poses no risk to humans. “Eating pork does not affect people health, provided they cook it well,” said Srun Pov.

Cambodians may not be getting the message. Pork vendor Srey Pich said her business had dropped from 6-7 pigs per day to 3-4 pigs. Even though pork demand has dropped, local farmers can supply only half.

Clearly, Cambodia will continue to rely on imports—illegal or not—for as long as local pig farmers cannot produce enough pigs. Local farmers will not raise pigs unless it is profitable.

Raising pigs will not be profitable until imports cost the same as, or less than Cambodian pigs. That needs one of two things—no imported pigs or cheaper production costs in Cambodia.

The Kingdom is currently trying the former. But the latter may yet prove to be the solution to Cambodia’s pig smuggling operation.

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