Da Lat authorities have destroyed 26 tons of Chinese potatoes, marking a huge leap in the city’s fight against foreign products that are sold as disguised made-in-Da Lat produce, while their origins are laundered.
The destroyed potatoes were seized at the warehouse of Nguyen Thi Thu Nguyet after officials from the city’s Economics Office raided in the facility on Saturday.
Nguyet confessed to importing the products via the Van Linh Co Ltd, an importer based in the northern province of Lao Cai.
Her warehouse is one of the largest such facilities in Da Lat, where the Chinese potatoes will be sold to other traders, who alter the origins of the produce and then sell them to the southern market as Da Lat potatoes.
Nguyet’s latest import batch consisted of up to 82 tons of potatoes from China, and she had managed to distribute 30 tons to Ho Chi Minh City prior to the raid, she said.
She was given a VND3 million fine, and had 26 tons of the stock destroyed.
The Chinese potatoes were also sent for safety tests, and were eventually found to contain an amount of chlorpyrifos, a chemical used in pesticides, that is 16 times higher than the limit required by the health ministry.
Excessive amount of chlorpyrifos residue can result in lung cancer and affect a baby’s health if consumed by pregnant women, according to Le Thi Lan Phuong, who works at the HCMC Medicine and Pharmacy University.
Surprisingly enough, the owner of the warehouse did obtain a safety certificate issued by the Plant Quarantine Agency Zone VIII in Lao Cai.
The destruction of these Chinese potatoes is the first step taken by Da Lat authorities to protect the reputation of its agricultural produce, said Duong Ngoc Duc, head of the city’s economics office.
“Many local traders have imported Chinese products and ‘laundered’ their origins in order to sell them as Da Lat produce for a long time,” Duc said.
“This has badly damaged the consumers trust in Da Lat produce, while also threatening their health due to the poor quality of the Chinese products.”
The main reason traders have gotten into such dishonest business is that Da Lat potatoes are five times costlier than the Chinese produce, he added.
For instance, while Nguyet only had to import the potatoes at VND3,344 a kilogram, she would rake in huge profits by selling them at VND15,000 a kg under the name of Da Lat potatoes.
While Da Lat can only supply large amounts of potatoes from December to May, there are tons of “Da Lat potatoes” distributed to HCMC and provinces countrywide all year round.
“This is extremely illogical and that’s why we put traders like Nguyet under close monitoring over the last two years,” Duc said.
Traders in Da Lat use a very simple trick to erase the real origin of the Chinese produce and wrap them in the Da Lat disguise.
After sourcing the potatoes from China, the traders wash them with a machine to remove the black dirt on their skin, dry them, and slightly scratch their skins to make them look as if they were damaged en route.
“The final step is to wrap them with the typical red dirt of Da Lat,” Duc said, adding that it is difficult to tell the fake products from the authentic ones with the naked eye.
Following the raid on Nguyet’s warehouse, officers still found many traders at the Da Lat market washing the potatoes and dyeing them red.
The market manager, Duong Minh Son, said the city has repeatedly asked the 24 traders at the market to stop doing so, but they refuse to listen.
“They said wrapping the potatoes with red dirt is a request by their partners in HCMC,” Son said, adding that it is not simple to curb the phenomenon.
“There is no law or regulation that bans them from dyeing the potatoes with red dirt,” he said.