HA NOI — Low awareness and a lack of inspections are leading to rampant and illegal trading of harmful food additives in Viet Nam.
Latest statistics from the Viet Nam Food Administration (VFA) under the Ministry of Health showed that nearly 16 per cent of food samples from northern provinces and 6 per cent from central provinces had tested positive for borax. In southern provinces, 17 per cent were found to contain formalin.
Recent inspections in the city's Dong Xuan Market found food additives on sale with no record of origin that failed to meet legal criteria.
Only 5-10 per cent of food additives used in the country are produced by domestic companies. The rest are imported mainly from China (30 per cent).
Head of the administration Tran Quang Trung said tonnes of substandard food additives had been used recently, and authorities were helpless to stop them from flowing into border provinces.
Nguyen Phu Cuong, deputy head of the Science and Technology Department under Ministry of Industry and Trade, shared Trung's opinions, and said it was impossible to employ enough inspectors to make regular checks.
To make matters worse, a lack of caution among consumers and traders about safe ways to use additives poses high risks.
According to the VFA, 12.5, 18 and 22.7 per cent of food samples in the north, central and Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) provinces respectively contained volumes of food preservative substances that exceeded legal limits.
Nguyen Thanh Phong, deputy head of the administration, said use of additives that failed to comply with the ministry's regulations could be harmful to people.
One gramme of borax could cause diarrhoea or vomiting, and 15 grammes could be fatal. Prolonged exposure to small amounts could result in building up in the adipose tissue, leading to weight lost and kidney degradation.
Experts said it was time to let the public know about the potential dangers of food additives, instead of concentrating on regulations and fines.
Cuong said most traders were unaware of the harmful effects food additives could have, and should be educated about their risks.
Thu Mai, a trader in Ha Noi's Ngo Si Lien Market, said they should be regularly updated about which products they were allowed to sell and what their legal responsibilities were.
Phong said consumers should also be made aware of the possible dangers of substandard food additives to protect themselves. — VNS