Vietnam's health minister brushes off parliamentary study linking cancer to unsafe food

By Hoang Thuy   April 20, 2017 | 11:51 pm PT
Vietnam's health minister brushes off  parliamentary study linking cancer to unsafe food
A fruit stand in Hanoi. Violations of chemical use in fruits and vegetables are common in Vietnam. Photo by Tomas Slavicek
Says the conclusion was ‘inaccurate’ and could mislead the public.

Vietnam’s health minister has dismissed findings that pointed to unsafe food as a major and direct cause of cancer in the country, saying it was misleading and could cause a national food scare.

Nguyen Thi Kim Tien made the statement in response to a report compiled by a parliamentary working group on food safety between 2011 and 2016.

More than 1,000 food poisoning cases were recorded over the five-year period, and 25,600 people were hospitalized. Of them, 164 died, according to the report released on Thursday.

“Every year, cancer kills around 70,000 people in Vietnam, while more than 200,000 new patients are reported. Among the causes is unsafe food,” Phan Xuan Dung, head of the National Assembly’s Science, Technology and Environment Committee, said.

The report found that 8.5 percent of fresh fruit and vegetables sold between 2011 and 2016 exceeded chemical residue safety limits, while 16 percent of the 57,400 farms involved in the study had violated regulations involving the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Tien agreed that serious food safety violations should be treated as a criminal offense, but said that blaming cancer on unhygienic food was "inaccurate".

“The leading cause of cancer in Vietnam is acute and chronic infection, such as hepatitis B and C that lead to liver cancer,” she said, citing findings by both Vietnamese and foreign experts.

If the report only mentions food as a cause, it will mislead the public, Tien was quoted by several local media reports as saying.

But members of the public are already attuned to the dangers.

When it comes to food safety, the Vietnamese have a bitter joke: “If you don’t eat, you’ll die; if you eat, you’ll die slowly.”

A 2015 survey by the National Institute of Nutrition found each Vietnamese person consumes 200 grams of vegetables on average a day, half the quantity advised by the World Health Organization and the same as in 1985 when Vietnam had a much smaller supply of vegetables.

Le Bach Mai, deputy director of the institute, said people do not eat a lot of vegetables because they're not sure if they're safe.

Various studies have proved that excessive use of chemicals in vegetables exposes consumers to the risk of lymphoma, brain cancer, leukemia and prostate cancer.

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