While Vietnam has claimed that none of its meat imports are from 21 scandal-hit companies in Brazil, local consumers still face the risk of unsafe meat thanks to the country’s loose tracking of animal imports.
The Animal Health Department under Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has said that the country has never imported meat from any of the 21 meat processing companies being investigated for alleged bribery in Brazil.
The Brazilian companies are purported to have bribed government health officials to forego inspections and ignore abuses, sparking fears about the quality of their meat.
Despite claims to the contrary from the animal health watchdog, it has been discovered that the relevant Vietnamese agencies do not closely monitor imported meats once they have cleared customs.
To complicate the matter, while customs data shows that Vietnam has imported meat from Brazil, many local food companies and supermarkets deny using or selling products from the South American country.
Even the chief official of the Animal Health Department, Pham Van Dong, admitted that it is impossible to know where the imported meat has gone after its customs clearance.
Who knows where the meat goes?
In an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Dong said no inspection was requested into meat imports into Vietnam before March 23, when the scandal broke out, as it has been confirmed that “Vietnam’s meat imports from Brazil did not include products from the 21 affected companies.”
Vietnam imported some 1,800 metric tons of chicken meat from Brazil in the first two months of this year, according to the department’s data.
Despite this, no Brazilian chicken meat has ever been found publicly on sale in stores or supermarkets across the country.
Asked about the mysterious path of the imported meat, Dong said without delay, “how can we know where the meat goes?”
“We are only responsible for checking if a batch qualifies for import, and that’s all,” he told Tuoi Tre.
“After customs clearance, the meat may go to an industrial park, or anywhere, who knows?”
Dong said that his department kept a close eye on imported meat before allowing it to clear customs, with officials taking samples from 100 percent of its imports for quarantine and quality testing.
Vietnamese meat suppliers and processors have long warned of the dubious quality of imported meat, especially those available at dirt cheap prices.
According to customs data, imports of fresh pork and cattle meat from Brazil have average prices ranging from only US$1 to $4 a kg.
Chicken wings, heads and feet have also been imported into Vietnam from VND7,000 ($0.31) to VND9,000 ($0.4) a kg, which local meat companies say are unreasonably cheap prices.
Tuoi Tre brought forward those concerns to Dong, and he repeated that pricing is not something his department was responsible for.
“We check all meat imports before they enter Vietnam, but how they are priced is the job of individual businesses,” he said.
Kevin Tho, director of THO Co. Ltd., a Ho Chi Minh City-based meat importer, said Brazilian meat is normally used by businesses in the HoReCa sector, (hotels, restaurants and cafés) instead of selling directly to consumers in retail outlets.
Tho also expressed his concern over Vietnam’s lax requirements on slaughtering dates.
Vietnam does not set any standard on the allowed period from slaughtering to the consumption of frozen meat, according to the director.
This means the expiry date of imported meat is only calculated from the time it is deep-frozen, even if it has been slaughtered months before, Tho said.