Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI – Fish sauce made in the country is generally safe for consumption despite recent public confusion and apprehension about its ingredients, a new report says.
The report, submitted to Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc on Monday by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), also says that a clear delineation of what constitutes “traditional” and “industrial” fish sauce will help clear the air.
Reputed international food safety research organisations and institutions have documented that arsenic occurs in both organic and inorganic forms, the report said.
Organic arsenic compounds are not harmful to humans, so there’s little need to assess a safe limit for them, especially in fish sauce, which is not consumed in large amounts.
However, safe limits have to be established for inorganic arsenic, which is highly toxic.
Under current national regulations on heavy metal contamination of food products issued by the Ministry of Health, the allowed maximum amount of inorganic arsenic in sauces is 1mg/kg.
Number plaques are attached to barrels of traditionally-made fish sauce on Phú Quốc Island, Kiên Giang Province. — VNA/VNS Photo
On October 22, the health ministry had announced that all 247 fish sauce samples – randomly collected from markets and supermarkets – of 210 brands from 82 manufacturers were tested and no amount of inorganic arsenic was detected.
The MARD report said Việt Nam and Thailand had jointly submitted a proposal to the Codex Alimentarius Commission (under the Food and Agriculture Organisation – FAO) on setting an international standard for fish sauce.
Under this proposal, 17 additives were deemed safe for use in fish sauce production.
A health ministry circular that lists 400 additives permitted in food production also mentions 17 that are allowed in fish sauce production, the report noted.
Fish sauce, a staple in Việt Nam, is traditionally made by letting a mixture of fish and salt ferment. It can be made with a variety of fish including anchovies, scads, herrings and mackerels.
However, the product has become more diverse of late, the report said.
“Besides the traditional fish sauce, many products involve mixing the traditional fish sauce with colours, additives, sweeteners, flavour enhancers and preservatives.”
The report said existing rules and standards for fish sauce are quite comprehensive, as are national technical regulations on fish sauce production and product labeling.
However, they do not differentiate clearly between “traditional” and “industrial sauce” (derivatives of traditional fish sauce), and this has led to some public confusion, it added.
The MARD’s inspections found that some manufacturers only state the total amount of nitrogen (grams per litre) contained in their products on the labels.
They do not carry any information on amino acids or ammonia nitrogen – which decides the quality/grade of the fish sauce, the report said.
It also said some fish sauce makers don’t mention the additives they are using, and such deliberate withholding of information robs consumers of the ability to make well-informed buying decisions.
The MARD said it would carry out a thorough review of national fish sauce standards in order to “better suit current production and business practices, ensure consumers’ rights and interests, and facilitate the work of management agencies.”
The report said the differences between traditional fish sauce and its derivatives will be made more transparent, and specific regulations issued on classification and labelling, among other things, to ensure that local products comply with CODEX STAN 302-2011, the international standard for fish sauce.
The controversy, which was ignited by a Việt Nam Standards and Consumers Association (VINASTAS) report, had prompted the Prime Minister to direct relevant agencies to make official announcements and allay widespread concerns over toxicity in traditionally-made fish sauce. – VNS