Pursat provincial authorities have decided to ban the production and sale of rice wine and herbal wines in order to prevent further cases of alcohol poisoning, according to Oeung Kimleang, the Pursat provincial deputy governor tasked with matters of public health.
Kimleang said that cases of alcohol poisoning in early June of this year alone had caused the deaths of 13 people and made over 100 more people extremely ill in three villages of Krakor district’s Ansar Chambak commune.
The victims were sent to Krakor district referral hospital and the Pursat provincial referral hospital as well as Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh.
"As the Ministry of Health has announced, the production of rice wine containing methanol is killing people. To ensure the safety and health of the public we need to completely shut down the business of producing rice wine or herbal wine throughout the province from now on,” he said.
According to Kimleang, Pursat province’s working group has put a lot of effort into communicating to the public throughout the region the extreme dangers of consuming rice wine and herbal wine that does not possess quality control labels from government departments. He noted that they have also posted notices prohibiting the production or sale of such wines.
"Our committee will impose fines of 5 to 10 million riel on a first offense and will thereafter refer their cases to the court for prosecution if they continue to produce and sell rice wine or herbal wine without permission from the local authorities and approval from the relevant departments," he said.
Those who make their living producing rice wine or herbal wine using traditional methods expressed their dissatisfaction with the provincial administration’s measures.
Kum Peng, 58, and a rice wine producer in Ansar Chambak commune’s Sansor village, told The Post that his family had been making a living producing rice wine for generations.
Peng added that he had learned his methods by memorising the recipes taught to him by his parents and grandparents from the age of 13. He claimed that his products have never caused harm to any consumers.
"Producing rice wine properly with ancient techniques is not harmful to your health, on the contrary, the wine makes consumers feel refreshed as they enjoy its mild but delicious flavour," said Peng.
Peng supported the ban on producing and selling rice wine or herbal wine containing methanol, because it poisons consumers – but he was not happy when authorities banned the production and sale of all rice wine, even those without any methanol.
“The authorities’ ban on the production and sale of all traditional rice wines seems unfair to us, because this ban will destroy a business that we have been running with good will for generations,” he said.
Ou Manrin, Consumer Protection Competition and Fraud Repression Directorate-General (CCF)’s Pursat Branch Manager, told The Post that the provincial administration's ban was imposed on winemakers who do not have a commercial registration or licence recognized by the local authorities, ministries, departments or other relevant government bodies.
"According to research by the department carried out previously, none of these rice wine or herbal wine makers have received permission from any provincial or national government authority, nor have they requested permission from the local authorities either," he said.
According to Manrin, some Cambodian rice wine producers are not following technical standards or using reliable standards of measurement in their work. They are just following recipes given to them by their parents or ancestors and if they make a mistake it can result in a batch of wine that is poisonous due to its methanol content.
Not only that, he said, but some people in the rice wine business are dishonest and use sub-standard or fake ingredients – including intentionally mixing methanol with their alcohol to pad their profits – with no care taken for the health of the consumers.
The local authorities in Krakor district have arrested a married couple who were producing rice wine that they suspect was the source of the recent poisoning incidents.
The court detained the couple on charges of misconduct related to goods and services and they were charged according to Article 43 of the Consumer Protection Law.