Chinese chemicals flood Vietnam's agricultural sector

By    September 22, 2016 | 11:19 pm PT
Chinese chemicals flood Vietnam's agricultural sector
A farmer sprays pesticide over his rice field. Photo by Reuters
Toxic residue from pesticides and insecticides has been blamed for Vietnam's spiraling cancer rate.

The Mekong Delta has long been the stronghold of Vietnam’s booming rice industry, and yields have increased significantly in recent years following the introduction of a third annual crop that is planted on the same land.

This practice means that nutrients that used to return naturally to the soil between the two traditional crops no longer have a chance to, so farmers have turned to chemicals.

Studies show that in the last 20 years, the amount of agricultural chemicals used to produce 1 kilogram of rice has jumped by 40 percent due to the extra crop.

Vietnam spends on average $774 million each year on imports of pesticides and insecticides, 90 percent of which come from neighboring China, Nguyen Lan Dung, a senior biologist, said on Thursday at a food safety forum.

To put this figure into perspective, agriculture contributes about $8.6 billion to Vietnam’s annual GDP while that figure in the U.S. stands at $170.8 billion, data from the World Bank show. However, the U.S. only spends an average of $593.9 million per year on agricultural chemical imports.

Vietnam imports about 100,000 tons of more than 4,000 different types of pesticides and insecticides, mainly from China, Dung said.

He pointed to a surge in food poisoning cases in recent years as an alarming sign that Vietnamese farmers are using too many chemical pesticides, fertilizers and preservatives to give their produce a deceivingly healthy appearance.

According to official statistics from the Food Safety Department, Vietnam has about 5,000-7,000 cases of food poisoning each year. Food poisoning, which claimed the lives of 23 people out of the 5,000 cases recorded last year, has shown no signs of abating with more than 2,000 cases reported in the first half of this year.

Cancer has become the leading killer in the country in recent years, and toxic chemical residue found in food has been blamed by authorities for the rocketing cancer rate.

Official statistics show that hospitals in Vietnam now receive on average 200,000 new cases each year. The number of cancer deaths in the country has climbed to 70,000 per year. Contaminated food is among the most common causes of cancer and is blamed for about 35 percent of cases.

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