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Vietnam association faces suspension over controversial fish sauce survey

Thursday, October 27, 2016, 16:22 GMT+7

The association responsible for spreading false fear through the public over fish sauce safety with misleading survey results is on the verge of suspension, a home affairs deputy minister said Wednesday.

The Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinastas), a nonprofit organization, is under scrutiny from government agencies after publishing a survey claiming that most Vietnamese fish sauce products have excessive amounts of arsenic.

Though traditionally produced Vietnamese fish sauce does contain arsenic, the chemical is in its organic form, which is non-toxic, and Vietnam’s food safety watchdog has no set limit on the level of organic arsenic in fish sauce.

The Vinastas survey has been criticized for failing to distinguish between organic and inorganic arsenic, instead choosing to refer only vaguely to the arsenic content in Vietnamese fish sauce and misleading the public into believing that fish sauce contains toxic inorganic arsenic and is unsafe for consumption.

The ongoing inspection into the association’s operation is meant to verify if the association is designated to conduct such surveys and publicize its findings, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Tran Anh Tuan told reporters in Hanoi on Wednesday.

“If conducting food safety survey is not included in Vinastas’ designated functions, the association should be suspended,” the deputy minister pressed.

Tuan said inspecting food products for safety and announcing results to the public are the jobs of agencies under such ministries as agriculture, science, health and trade, implying that it is not something a non-profit association is meant to do.

“Now that Vinastas has already conducted the survey and publicized its findings, the association must be fully responsible for its statements that may negatively affect the [fish sauce] market and the business of fish sauce makers.”

Vietnamese fish sauce can either be made traditionally through fish fermentation, or through industrial manufacturing by mixing fish essence with various chemicals.

Indeed, the misleading information of fish sauce safety released on October 17 by Vinastas has taken a toll on traditional fish sauce makers.

Retailers have reportedly stopped sourcing products from traditional manufacturers, while the Fivimart supermarket chain has pulled traditionally made fish sauce from its shelves.

On October 22, the Ministry of Health intervened to reassure the public with an official statement, claiming that a ministry-run survey of 247 fish sauce samples found none with excessive amounts of inorganic arsenic.

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