by To Nhu
Everyone knows functional food works to improve health and build resistance to diseases, especially in patients and people recovering from ailments.
While the use of functional food seems to be on the rise, Vietnamese consumers are increasingly worried about fake products, the manufacture and trade of which also seems to be booming. This is evident from the repeated cases uncovered by market watchers and the economic police, with the confiscated cargo in each of them reaching weights of hundreds of kilograms to tonnes.
The seizure of 10 tonnes of fake functional food on January 21 would be an ideal example of such a case.
Authorised agencies had stopped a car, which was being driven by 31-year-old Nguyen Tuan Linh of Nghe An Province, at random. After checking the vehicle, they found 170 boxes of fake royal jelly, labelled Costa/Royal Jelly 1450.
Further investigation into the case brought to light a large ring of producers and traders of fake functional food, headed by 33-year-old Hoang Thi Hong of Nghe An Province and 29-year-old Nguyen Cong Viet of Bac Ninh Province.
Together, they possessed three warehouses that contained 10 tonnes of fake functional food, most of which replicated the most popular products in the market, such as royal jelly, sheep placenta, Japanese seaweed and collagen. The investigation found a total of 30 items being copied.
According to market watchers and police in Ha Noi, making and selling fake functional food has become the new trend, now that the trade of mixing tea for weight loss with poisonous substances has gone out of fashion, after being exposed to the public.
They said that the fake tea sellers turned to selling counterfeit functional food by investing in capsuling and packaging equipment.
Among the most falsified items are shark fin, seaweed and royal jelly, which are touted as being able to prevent cell oxidisation and chronic, serious diseases, such as high blood fat, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders and various forms of cancer. They are also believed to be able to enhance physical strength and slow down ageing.
Usually, producers of such products rent warehouses in provinces adjacent to Ha Noi, or on islets in the Red River that flows through the city, to store their merchandise and then wait for the right time to transport them to the city.
Small traders buy the goods wholesale at cheap prices in large nylon bags, which contain the fake functional food in capsules, after which they divide them into boxes and label them with Korean, American and Australian trademarks and import stamps.
Once nicely packaged, one such box can fetch amounts in the range of VND500,000 to VND1 million (US$25 to $50), at least a dozen times more than its real value.
In markets, these items are advertised as foreign-made products shipped home by air in the luggage of travellers.
Their marketing is mostly verbal; i.e. A tells B, who, in turn, tells C. Word is also spread through attendants at pharmacies, spas and beauty salons, who introduce customers to these products.
Huong Lan, who is with the Viet Nam Women's Academy, spent VND5 million ($250) on three boxes of collagen, which was claimed to be "Made in USA," from a seller she was introduced to by a friend, to improve her skin that was darkening due to ageing.
Instead of showing improvements after she emptied the first box, her skin developed rashes. When she called the seller, she was told that the rashes could have been caused either by her not having finished all three boxes, or due to dietary issues.
Following this, Lan decided to quit using the product, as she no longer trusted it.
Furthermore, a lecturer at the Military Medical Academy, Dr Nguyen Le, noted that there were high risks of using functional food without knowledge of its origin. He warned that hazardous substances in the fake products can transform cells and cause malfunctions in liver, kidney and the digestive system, lead to allergies, skin inflammations and poisoning, and cause cancer, or even death, in extreme cases.
He advised consumers to consult with specialist doctors before turning to functional food.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for an ordinary customer to distinguish real functional food from counterfeit products with the naked eye, without the use of testing equipment.
So all one can do is hope that authorised agencies fend off manufacturers and traders of such fake functional food and publicise the names of pharmacies and shops that have had a hand in their distribution. — VNS