Contaminated food: a deadly threat to millions

April 29, 2016 | 12:54 am PT
Luong Hoai Nam
One of my relatives passed away at the age 60 due to cancer. His family, colleagues and friends all thought that he was too young to die.

At the cemetery, my cousin’s grave is surrounded by other memorials to people who died in their fifties, forties and even thirties. Sitting with the cemetery's security guard, I asked him why so many young people were lying at rest there. He sighed deeply and said there were two reasons: cancer and traffic accidents.

Tran Lap, a famous musician, recently left us at the age of 42 to the grief of millions of his fans. The cause of his death was cancer. Tran Lap is just one of 75,000 Vietnamese people who die of cancer each year. He was famous so his death was well publicized. Other cancer victims die more quietly, leaving their families in silent mourning.

It is estimated that Vietnam has about 150,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed each year. That means the mortality rate from cancer will certainly rise in the future. It’s no exaggeration to say in the next 10 years, the number of deaths caused by cancer in Vietnam could reach as much as one million, equivalent to the entire population of some small countries.

Cancer stems from many causes; one of which is a dangerous living environment. Day after day, Vietnamese people eat dirty food, drink dirty beverages, breath dirty air and live in dirty houses. Toxic chemicals can attack people anytime, anywhere. However, I think contaminated food is the main reason behind the thousands of cancer deaths in Vietnam.

We were shocked and outraged by the news that six million pigs that may have been fed salbutamol, a substance banned from use in food production, had reached the markets. I don’t know whether other types of animals are raised in the same way. I’m not sure how many tons of fruit and vegetables are saturated in toxic chemicals. And I wonder how many liters of toxic drinks are sold every day. We can’t give specific figures, but we can be sure these figures are worryingly high.

Many farmers put aside a piece of land to grow clean vegetables for their families, while the remaining crops are “watered” with harmful substances before being sent to market. Other farmers also differentiate between ‘pigs to eat’ and ‘pigs for sale’. Street vendors as well as coffee shop owners add chemicals to glasses of coffee and wine to enhance the flavor.

The authorities, however, seem helpless to stop this flood of contaminated food reaching our tables. If they do discover a case where food safety regulations have been broken, they issue a fine rather than bringing the case to court. It’s time Vietnam imposed heavier punishments for the people who sell or produce contaminated food, and even put them in jail if necessary.

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