Vietnam debunks arsenic fish sauce scare

By Vo Thanh, Vo Hai, Nguyen Hoai   October 22, 2016 | 08:00 pm PT
247 fish sauce samples collected from five provinces and cities are safe.

Vietnam’s top leaders have called for an investigation into the release of a vague and misleading survey that led consumers to fear that the nation's fish sauce contained dangerous levels of arsenic.

Those found guilty of circulating the misinformation could face criminal investigations, Minister of Public Security To Lam said Saturday.

The same day, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc directed health and agricultural officials to quickly notify the public of any arsenic discovered in domestic fish sauce.

The ministries of industry and trade, information and communications were to investigate the Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinastas) for releasing the survey, which made no distinction between organic and inorganic arsenic.

The ministries will submit reports to PM Phuc by November 10.

This weekend, the Ministry of Health announced that 247 samples of fish sauce collected in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and Khanh Hoa provinces contained safe levels of organic arsenic.

The survey samples came from 82 traditional and industrial fish sauce factories throughout the country.

The ministry claimed all of the samples contained nothing but fish, salt and approved food additives. The samples' lead, mercury and cadmium contents all fell within permissible levels.

Five local fish sauce manufacturing associations in Kien Giang, Binh Thuan, and Hai Phong sent a formal request to the government on Friday asking it to punish whomever slandered the fish sauce industry.

On October 7, Vinastas released a survey of 150 samples of comercially available fish sauce from 19 cities and provinces throughout the country.

The results claimed 70 percent of the sample pool exceeded the Ministry of Health's maximum limit of one milligram of arsenic per liter. The organization claimed that some samples contained five times that amount.

Arsenic exists in different chemical forms, which can be classified into two groups: organic arsenic and inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is considered seriously toxic to human health, while organic arsenic, which is naturally found in fish and other seafood, is considered non-toxic.

Vinastas was accused of misleading the public by only using the generic term “arsenic” in its survey results and failing to distinguish the organic arsenic it found in fish sauce as non-toxic.

Nguyen Khanh Hoa, a Vietnamese-Canadian medical researcher, said Vinastas failed to discover even a trace of toxic inorganic arsenic in even one of its samples.

The fish sauce associations said the survey has caused alarm among local consumers that led a number of supermarkets and stores to temporarily halt sales.

Fish sauce is an essential element of Vietnamese cuisine. The country consumes around 200 million liters of fish sauce every year. Every year, the country spends between VND7.2 and 7.5 trillion ($320-333 million) on fish sauce, according to the General Statistics Office.

Related news:

> Arsenic-tainted fish sauce safe for humans: experts

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

go to top