HA NOI (VNS)— Viet Nam must do more to protect customers from toxic fruit and vegetables imported through land border gates, after many recent discoveries of unquarantind produce from China that is dangerous for consumers, the Viet Nam Standards and Consumers Association have said.
|Customs officers at the Lao Cai Border Gate check imported fruit in order to protect customers from toxic chemicals. — VNA/VNS Photo Tran Viet
Do Gia Phan, a representative from the organisation, called for more specific regulations to be issued to tightly control the quality of imported goods at a meeting in Ha Noi yesterday.
He said that while Vietnamese fruit and vegetables were strictly checked before export, there were no safeguards for the same type of goods coming the other way.
Nguyen Van Hoi, deputy head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Mountainous Trade Department, confirmed that fruit and vegetables were allowed to be imported through all of the country's land border gates.
"We currently have no specific regulations to control food safety and hygiene for fruit and vegetables imported from China, Cambodia, and Laos", Hoi said.
"Produce is often divided into small consignments in order to be continuously imported from China into Viet Nam through unofficial channels everyday," he added.
Tran Cong Thang, from the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development, raised the issue that while big border gates were often deserted, small border gates were commonly busy. He suggested that evading import tax payments was the reason.
Hoi said: "This is an issue and the ministry is compiling a new circular - set to be published in the second quarter of 2013 - to clearly regulate which border gates are to be permitted to import fruit and vegetables."
He also said another major problem was that when goods come through the border gates it was hard for customs staff to test the quality of it all.
"They take some samples but the qualitative method used provides low-accuracy results," he stressed.
"Meanwhile, samples also take up to seven days to be sent to Ha Noi for tests, and customs staff could not hold trucks carrying the goods for a long time due to the resultant jams at border gates," he said.
Le Son Ha, from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's Plant Protection Department blamed "a great shortage of both the facilities and human resources needed to check the food safety and hygiene of imported farm produce."
He revealed that detection equipment can only identify around 300 unsafe chemicals while there are believed to be over 1,000 used. Complicating matters even further, the scanner can only identify a maximum of 50 chemicals at any one time. One batch of fruit and vegetables requires up to six scans to fully check for the 300 toxic chemicals."
He said that the acquisition of more advanced detector equipment would only be possible if there is a substantial amount of staff re-training for them to use it.
Recently public anger and fear over the issue has started to grow. A recent Viet Nam Standards and Consumers Association survey of 1,200 people in six provinces shows that 95 per cent say they are very concerned about food safety and hygiene. They ranked fruit and vegetables as the most dangerous type of imported food.
"It is imperative for scientists to find quick tests with high-accuracy results," said assocation representative Phan.
The trade in fruit and vegetables is lucrative, with the import turnover from China via land border gates estimated to have reached around US$200 million in 2011. The figure is forecast to be the same again this year. — VNS