Toxic fruit imports must be controlled
Officials estimate that about a thousand tonnes of fruit and vegetable are imported from China to Viet Nam every day across the Tan Thanh border gate in northern Lang Son Province.
Recently, the Plant Protection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) found the preservative residues in the Chinese fruit samples (2 samples of grapes, one pomegranate, one plum) to be 3-5 times higher than acceptable levels.
Since early July, the department has collected 104 fruit and vegetable samples imported from China and other countries for testing. Still, consumers continue to feel worried by the abundance of Chinese fruit and vegetables being sold in Vietnamese markets.
Viet Nam News spoke with experts on the issue.
*Nguyen Xuan Hong, head of the Plant Protection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
The reason Chinese agricultural products float Vietnamese markets has to do with the interrelated relations in trade and commerce between the two countries. It also depends on the season.
|Nguyen Xuan Hong
The five Chinese agricultural products transported to Viet Nam in the highest volume are apples, oranges, mandarins, canary melons and grapes. Through the border gate at Lang Son Province, we estimate about 160,000 tones were transported into Viet Nam since the beginning of the year.
All of the products that are imported to Viet Nam, especially imported fresh vegetables and fruit, have to be thoroughly checked. It's not true that we only work after incidences happen. That's a huge misunderstanding which is causing consumers to be so concerned.
We suggest consumers follow proper procedures in processing fruit and vegetables. They should only buy products from reliable sellers and places with clear origins.
Currently, the Plant Protection Department is not the only agency that inspects imported agricultural products. There are also other agencies taking part in the inspection at airports, ports and borders.
At these locations, we also use quick test kits. Any sample that might include an abnormality would be immediately transferred to labs.
Currently, our labs can analyse and identify up to 300 chemicals that can cause food to be unsafe. The department has also installed high-tech equipment costing US$1.5 million that can accurately identify the exceeded amount of prohibited chemicals or pesticides.
I believe we can control and manage the safety level of imported agricultural products into this country, thus providing timely information for consumers.
That was why we were recently able to discover the level of pesticides in Chinese apples, pearls, grapes and potatoes that was 1.5 to 5 times higher than the permitted level earlier in September.
All of the products that do not meet our standards must be re-exported. After that, we will increase our monitoring activities accordingly to Circular No 13 of the Ministry about inspecting the safety level of imported plant products.
Those that are found to contain higher than the permitted level of pesticides will be put onto our "black list." We are planning to increase the frequency of inspection for products that are considered high-risk. When violations are recorded three times, we will issue import banning for products that come from that particular region and also that for imported company.
*Tran Hung, deputy head of the Market Management Department under the Ministry of Industry and Trade
All of the products and goods that enter Viet Nam for commercial purpose have to be monitored by market management officials. However, we have to work with sectoral inspectors to increase monitoring.
With regards to fruit and vegetables, market management force can only inspect those that are clearly labelled with origins.
After entering the market, the low-quality, smuggled fruit can be made to look much better, using fake labels and with such a vast amount of fruits and vegetables in the market, carrying out inspections can be very difficult.
I think we have to prevent unsafe fruit and vegetables right from the border. It's like a funnel and it would be extremely difficult to quarantine them once they enter the market. If custom officials and other forces can intensify inspection at our borders, then at least we would make sure fradulent trade would be reduced.
It's also critically important to increase our efforts in raising awareness for consumers. If consumers are educated not to buy smuggled goods, then it would also help reduce the supply of unsafe vegetables and fruit being smuggled here.
*Nguyen Manh Hung, general secretary of the Viet Nam Standards and Consumers Association (VINASTAS)
As an organisation working to protect consumers' interests, we are very concerned on hearing that relevant agencies discovered samples of fresh plum fruits, pomegranates and grapes imported from China containing pesticide residues that exceed the permitted threshold, and 40 per cent of 50 samples of beensprouts containing toxic E.coli and excessive salmonella.
|Nguyen Manh Hung
We can easily see that for many years, consumers already have major concerns about harmful Chinese fruits and vegetables. The fact that our markets are still filled with toxic Chinese fruit and vegetables show our weaknesses in market management. Consumers do not have enough information so they become the victims.
In addition, all of the street vendors use cheap ingredients, which increases the demand for such toxic fruit and vegetables. Consumers need to be aware of the situation. They should only buy products with clear origins.
*Nguyen Trung Ha, head of the Mong Cai plant quarantine station
Fruit and vegetables from China are sold in large quantities in Mong Cai market in northern border area of Quang Ninh Province, however, for the past five to six years there's not been a single consignment of Chinese fruits or vegetables officially imported through the border gate. That means all of the fruits and vegetables, especially those from China, come through the residents buying and selling at the border gate, not through official channels.
The residents living at the border are allowed to bring goods through the border that cost up to VND2 million without having to do paperwork. Occasionally inter-sectoral agencies come to the market to get samples for inspection, but it's very difficult to monitor and really get a grip on the residents' activities. — VNS