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Stay off offal, expert advises

Update: February, 06/2013 - 00:00

Pham Tat Thang from the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Viet Nam Institute for Trade spoke to Nong thon Ngay nay (Countryside Today) about imports of livestock internal organs

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has proposed to resume the import of animal pennies and other internal organs [known as white organs] that have been banned since 2010. At present, only hearts, livers and kidneys can be imported. The ministry has said its proposal aims to abide by commitments made when Viet Nam joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO). What do you think?

I don't think that gaining WTO membership means Viet Nam has to import what it doesn't need. One of top WTO principles is all member countries are treated equally. Viet Nam will violate the principle if it imports white organs from US but from Australia. Moreover, in this case, Viet Nam does not have a huge need for the white organs and the public are already worried about unsafe frozen animal organs. So we can use technical barriers to refuse imports. It can be seen, furthermore, that the ban on white organ import has lasted years without any significant impact.

But the Agriculture Ministry's argument is that if Viet Nam maintains the ban, other countries could impose barriers on Vietnamese agricultural products. Is this a reasonable assumption?

It's nor reasonable to say so. Our products cannot enter their countries only if they fail to meet their technical standards, not because Viet Nam does not import some other product. This is not a trade-off. It is baseless to say that if Viet Nam lifts the ban, other countries will accept Vietnamese fruits, honey or spicy vegetables.

I also see a problem here. In many countries, people don't eat the internal organs of animals, which are mostly used to make animal feed. They also have strict measures to deal with unsafe animal organs that can possibly be carrying germs. In such countries, animal organs can be seen as a kind of waste, so they might even offer support for importers of this waste. Meanwhile, in Viet Nam, animal organs are food that humans consume. I am guessing that Vietnamese companies who want to import animal organs are thinking about making great profits. I wonder if there is any under-the-table deal between management authorities and importers.

Is there demand in Viet Nam for animal organs?

I don't think the domestic market needs more animal organs. In addition, health officials have warned about the high concentration of cholesterol in animal organs, which is bad for human health. Viet Nam has already seen cases of spoiled imported food entering the domestic market. As of now, local authorities are still struggling to control unsafe food. Lifting the ban on import of animal organs will impose more burdens on them. — VNS

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