Organic arsenic in fish sauce safe for humans: experts

By    October 19, 2016 | 12:24 am PT
Organic arsenic in fish sauce safe for humans: experts
Fish sauce in the making with fresh fish and high-quality sea salt on Phu Quoc Island. Photo courtesy of VGP
Experts in the fish sauce industry said organic arsenic, which is naturally found in fish, seafood and fish sauce, is considered to be non-toxic.

A survey by a consumer protection group is pointing to what it calls "an alarming connection between high arsenic concentrations in fish sauce and public health", while many experts disagreed. 

The Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association, also known as Vinastas, said nearly 70 percent of the 150 tested samples of fish sauce on the market, "exceeded the Health Ministry’s maximum limit of one milligram of arsenic per liter". The survey analyzed samples from 19 cities and provinces throughout the country.

Vinastas, funded by an anonymous donor to conduct the survey, said it was "not capable of carrying out a study on a larger scale", Vu Van Dien, vice chairman of Vinatas, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Wednesday.


However, experts in the fish sauce industry have spoken out about the new findings, saying that the limit of one milligram of arsenic per liter is intended to keep traces of inorganic arsenic in food safe.

Arsenic exists in different chemical forms, which can be classified into two groups: organic arsenic and inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is considered to be the most toxic to human health, while organic arsenic, which is naturally found in fish and other seafood, is considered to be non-toxic, said Tran Thi Dung, a senior expert at the Vietnam Institute of Fishery Economics and Planning.

The European Food Safety Authority even allows levels of organic arsenic in fermented sauces up to 30 milligrams per liter, Dung added.

Nguyen Khanh Hoa, a Vietnamese-Canadian medical researcher, pointed to the fact that in all the samples with arsenic levels higher than the permissible level, Vinastas did not find any traces of inorganic arsenic.

According to Euromonitor, a global market research database, industrial-scale fish sauces currently account for 76 percent of Vietnam’s local market, and revenue reached VND11.3 trillion ($501 million) last year.

The fermented condiment traditionally made from fresh fish and sea salt costs about $9 per liter, but it is facing increasingly fierce competition with an industrially produced bottle priced less than $2.

The Health Ministry, under orders from the Prime Minister, is investigating the quality of factory-made fish sauce on the market after local media raised concerns about the levels of chemicals and addictives used in mass-produce fish sauce. The results of the investigation are expected to be released later this week.

Fish sauce is an essential condiment used in Vietnamese cooking. The country consumes around 200 million liters of fish sauce every year. Annual sales of fish sauce in the country are VND7.2-7.5 trillion ($320-333 million), according to the General Statistics Office.

Related news:

High levels of arsenic found in many Vietnamese fish sauce brands

Vietnam to probe mass-produced fish sauce amid new food safety scare

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