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Lead contamination in Philippine drinks sparks concern among Vietnam consumers

Thursday, June 09, 2016, 11:27 GMT+7
Lead contamination in Philippine drinks sparks concern among Vietnam consumers
A consumer holds Rong Do energy drinks at a supermarket in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City.

The recent disclosure of excessive lead content in beverages produced by the Vietnamese unit of Filipino food and beverage firm Universal Robina Corporation (URC) causes many consumers to be worried about their health, as most of the affected drinks have already been sold to the market.

The Ministry of Health signed a decision in late May to impose a VND5.8 billion (US$259,144) financial penalty on URC Hanoi Co. Ltd. for excessive lead content in its C2 bottled green tea and Rong Do (Red Dragon) energy drinks.

URC Hanoi, under URC Vietnam, is the Vietnamese arm of Universal Robina Corporation, one of the largest consumer food and beverage companies in the Philippines.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Health also supervised the disposal of 1,184 boxes of C2 and Rong Do drinks, weighing over 10 metric tons, which came from consignments in violation of health codes.

However, nearly 40,000 similar boxes of the two types of beverages have already been sold to consumers across the country with total revenue estimated at VND3.9 billion ($174,252), VnExpress cited Nguyen Van Nhien, deputy chief inspector of the Ministry of Health, as saying.

The tainted products were manufactured in late 2015, according to the firm.

The announcement has left customers throughout the country unsure whether or not they may have purchased contaminated bottles and worried that their health may be at risk.

Potential harm

According to the poison control center under Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, lead is harmful to the human body, especially to the intellectual development of young children.

Once consumed, the metal is stored in bones and soft tissues for 30 to 40 years, the center said.

Lead consumption can result in an array of serious health issues as well as influencing bone formation, depressing height development, and stunting hemoglobin synthesis in children.

Consuming products with high lead content over just a short period will not lead to any visible symptoms, Nguyen Tien Dung, head of the Pediatric Department at Bach Mai Hospital, was quoted by VnExpress as saying.

People with concerns regarding their health are recommended to undergo testing for lead content in their blood, the doctor said, adding that those affected should receive treatment to detoxify the metal in their body.

According to Dan Tri newswire, children are more likely to absorb lead than adults.

Compensation

According to Nguyen Manh Hung, vice-president of the Vietnam Standard and Consumers Association, consumers have the right to demand compensation, Dan Tri reported.

Buyers can choose to settle the cases through negotiation with the firm or file a lawsuit.

However, bringing the case to court in this particular situation would be a waste of time and effort as buyers usually purchase these products in small volumes and bottles, which would act as evidence, have most likely been disposed of.

Agreeing with the opinion, Pham Thanh Binh, a lawyer from a Hanoi law firm, said that plaintiffs must also present proof that their health has been affected, which can be difficult, according to VnExpress.

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