Shoppers voice concerns about pesticide residues
Plant Protection Department chief Nguyen Xuan Hong spoke to Thoi Bao Kinh Doanh (Business Times) about persistent tales of cabbages sprayed with formaldehyde and contaminated Chinese apples.
We have seen many cases of contaminated Chinese fruit and vegetables being imported. While Chinese apples are said to have safe levels of chemicals in them, what about other produce?
All fruit is at risk of contamination. For example, grapes, apples and pears can sit on the vine or trees for months before being harvested. This makes them vulnerable to insects and diseases. Therefore, there's a high likelihood that farmers will use pesticides to keep them free of pests.
What percentage of Chinese apples and pears is being sold in the Vietnamese markets?
About 70-80 per cent of the apples and pears available are believed to be imported from China, and about 60 per cent of them contain some chemicals used to prevent pest. However, we believe the level does not exceed permitted levels in Viet Nam.
According to instructions from Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Planning Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu, Viet Nam authorities will work with the Chinese embassy and maybe send people to China. Has this been done?
The Department of Agricultural Food Management has compiled a list of members prepared to work with China. It has come up with a document requesting all relevant agencies in China to comment on unsafe food being sold in our country.
Can you tell us about the checking process of other types of fruit and vegetables imported to Viet Nam?
All fruit and vegetables from China and all other countries are subject to inspection accordingly to Government Decision 13/2011. This provides regulations related to inspecting imported plants and vegetation. Obviously when a problem arises, inspections are intensified. However, we do this on a daily basis and do not wait until there's a case.
What's about our testing abilities?
All Vietnamese laboratories meet international standards and as a large exporter of agricultural products, we are fully capable of performing tests.
The permitted amount for chemicals really depends on the type of chemicals and the food. The EU and developed countries follow many kinds of international standards. Viet Nam has the Health Ministry's Decision 48 and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Planning's Decision 68, which regulate the maximum use of chemicals for each product. For chemicals that do not appear on our list, we use the same regulations as in Europe, which means that they cannot exceed a level of 0,01 ppm.
Last year, after inspection, Viet Nam refused to accept the importation of 500,000 tonnes of corn from India because of a fear it was riddled with pests. If any imported food fails to meet our regulations, we do not accept it.
What's about the situation with domestic vegetables and fruit?
Currently, for EU countries, if the amount of residues found in produce exceeds a level of 4-5 per cent over the accepted level (0.01mg per kilo), the produce is considered unsafe.
In Viet Nam, according to statistics from recent Government inspections, we use the level of 7-8 per cent.
Despite this, it's obvious that the general public still has to worry about the quality of vegetables and fruits being sold here.
Yes, it's important for the public to be concerned. However, we advise that concern should not be used to scare people. Currently, all relevant agencies are following strict procedures to inspect these products, both domestically-produced and imported.
However, even in many developed countries, citizens are advised to buy from shops and stores that sell products with clear origins, and that's also where the authorities and relevant agencies conduct regular inspections.
Secondly, they're advised to choose products which have a high level of safety. The US has a list of products that are vulnerable to contamination – including apples, grapes, pears, cherries – and advise people to be extremely cautious about using them.
Citizens are also advised to pay attention to cooking and processing procedures. For example, we're advised to peel off the skin of fruit, and in some cases, put them in boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute to reduce the risk. — VNS