Vietnam’s environmental police have arrested five people for illegally dealing in a banned chemical used in swine husbandry, a pay-off for an inspection lasting nearly two months.
The Ministry of Public Security’s environmental police unit, known as C49, had carefully followed the five-member ring since October, before catching three of them red-handed delivering the banned substance salbutamol to customers in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday.
Salbutamol is a medication that opens up the medium and large airways in the lungs, therefore used to treat such diseases as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The substance, however, can also be used as a lean-meat agent that helps pigs or shrimp gain weight in a short time but is detrimental to human health.
Users usually mix a kilogram of the banned substance, usually in the form of powder, with every ten metric tons of animal feed to shorten the raising time and rake in bigger profits.
On Tuesday morning, Vo Van Thanh, 26, was captured immediately after he had taken some bags of the banned substance from the seafood firm E-Birds Co. in Binh Thanh District, according to police.
The company director, Tran Van Bui, was also held.
Thanh later admitted to police that he had previously worked as an animal feed deliveryman, but then switched to trading salbutamol because “some pig farmers offered to buy [it] at high prices.”
He sourced the banned chemical from Bui at VND6 million (US$268) a kg and sold it at VND7 million ($313) a kg to make easy money, he said.
The man added he was recommended to Bui by Tran Cong Dai, who also sourced the lean-meat agent from E-Birds.
Upon such a confession, C49 officers also caught Dai in the act of selling 0.5kg of salbutamol powder in the afternoon.
Later the same day, C49 captured Le Minh Tuan and Nguyen The Hau, director of a seafood firm in the southern province of Tien Giang, and seized 2.5kg of salbutamol they were delivering to customers in Ho Chi Minh City.
Upon searching the headquarters of E-Birds Co., officers also found a total of 17 types of chemicals stored in different containers.
The company director confessed that he had bought them from Kim Bien in District 5, the city’s largest chemical market.
Bui stashed 17.5kg of salbutamol powder in a barrel hidden in the company’s kitchen, according to officers.
Police discover the banned chemical inside the barrel. Photo: Tuoi Tre
While the barrel bears a label saying the substance was imported from India, the director said he had in fact bought it from a company in Binh Thanh District for VND2 million ($89) a kg, and had no knowledge of its origin.
A C49 officer said the salbutamol has been imported into Vietnam by many companies that will sell it to other distributors for VND2.5 million ($112) to VND6 million ($268) a kg.
These distributors will then sell the chemical to animal raisers at around VND8 million ($357) a kg to reap profits.
Pork adulterated with salbutamol usually looks redder than normal, thus attractive to consumers.
However, consumption of the chemical over a long time may result in such symptoms as headache, nausea, a fast heartbeat, increased blood pressure, digestive disorders, and even life-threatening poisoning, according to doctors.