Nearly 200 tons of tea grown in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong was able to clear customs in Taiwan on Thursday after being held for months over a dioxin contamination rumor, the Vietnam Tea Association (VITAS) announced the same day.
The exported Oolong tea, worth hundreds of billions of dong (VND1 billion ~ $47,000), was not allowed to clear customs since September following an allegation from Taiwan that it was tainted with the highly toxic chemical dioxin.
Dioxin is a small compound which was contained within the "Agent Orange" herbicide that the American military used to defoliate jungles during the war in Vietnam, and it is one of the most toxic compounds ever known, according to scientists.
Hundreds of tea producing and trading companies in Lam Dong, including 30 Taiwanese firms, have been hurt by the rumor for months.
The Lam Dong administration on Wednesday filed a dispatch saying tea grown in the province is dioxin-free, and its agricultural land is not contaminated either.
Upon receiving the affirmation from the Lam Dong administration, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vietnam notified Taiwanese authorities, which in turn asked the port authorities, to clear customs for the Vietnamese-grown products, according to VITAS deputy chairman Doan Trong Phuong.
“The exports had passed quarantine and pesticide residue tests earlier but the port authorities were hesitant to clear customs for them due to the rumor until receiving an official explanation from Vietnam,” Phuong said.
On November 11, a Taiwanese news anchor said on his Facebook page that Vietnamese tea contains dioxin, according to Chinese-language newswire ETtoday.
The news commentator added tens of thousands of tons of tea imported from Vietnam had been sealed at a Taiwanese port for investigation, and warned Taiwanese consumers not to use the product.
The customs clearance, however, did not completely resolve the issue, according to VITAS.
“The unfounded rumor must be silenced in Taiwan in order to protect the reputation of Vietnam’s Oolong tea,” the association said in a statement.
The Lam Dong administration and Vietnamese industry insiders have demanded that Taiwanese authorities organize a press meeting in Taiwan to clarify the information.
“If the media meeting is held, Lam Dong and Vietnamese tea businesses should send representatives to attend, and present all evidence available,” Phuong said.
If the Taiwanese side refuses to organize the press meeting, VITAS will petition to relevant authorities to have it hosted, he added.
The rumor was allegedly spread by Taiwan’s domestic tea makers as a method of unhealthy competition to tarnish the reputation of their counterparts in Vietnam, even including the Taiwanese firms, according to Han Wen Te, director of Fushen Co., a Taiwanese tea company based in Lam Dong.
This is because Vietnamese-grown Oolong tea is imported to Taiwan at a price that is only one-fourth the domestic rate, he elaborated.