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July 29, 2021, 7:04 pm

Fruit safety questionable

(08:23:01 AM 13/10/2014)
( - Public concerns about the safety of products originating in China, especially fruits, are meant to be doused when the top official of the country’s veggies safety agency asserts that there is no ground for suspicions.

Ministry wants to know why a Chinese pear took five months to rot

Nguyen Xuan Hong, head of the Plant Protection Department under the agriculture ministry, brushes aside questions from the media on the toxic chemicals used for treating Chinese-grown pear and apple, as it is reported that such fruits can stay fresh for long periods of between five and nine months. “It’s normal for apples to remain good after nine months,” says Hong.


However, the reassurance from the veggies safety agency leader fails to restore consumers’ confidence. Rather, it stirs up controversies, as seen in local media these days.


All begins with news reports that a woman purchased Chinese apples for display on the altar in her house, and after some nine months, the apples still look fresh and beautiful, and of course not rotten. Upon the news reports, the agriculture and healthcare ministries ordered relevant agencies to conduct tests to see whether such fruits were treated with preservatives hazardous to human health. So Hong of the Plant Protection Department took the frontline to answer the media.


“It’s normal for such fruits to be imperishable after one year. Don’t jump to conclusion that such fruits are treated with toxic preservatives,” stresses Hong in Vnexpress.


According to him, fruits can be kept fresh for long periods if they are not yet infected by microorganisms, are treated with approved preservatives, and stored in cool places of some five degrees Celsius. Under such conditions, apples can stay fresh for many months.


Most other people disagree with Hong.


Nguyen Duy Lam, a senior leader of Vietnam Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Post-Harvest Technology, says in Bao Dat Viet that “if pears can stay five months and apples nine months, it is by all means certain that such fruits are treated with chemicals.” Lam says that traders may have used extremely high doses of unknown or unapproved chemicals to treat such fruits, killing all microorganisms.


Tran Thi Mai, who is Lam’s colleague at the same institute, says there are not any materials indicating that apples under normal conditions can still be fresh and not perished after nine months. She raises the possibility of traders using a type of herbicide known as 2,4D, also from China, to treat such fruits, says Vnexpress.


Another scientist, Nguyen Duy Thinh at the Institute for Biotechnology and Food under the HCMC Polytechnic University, bluntly rejects the long life of fruits. “There are not any known (legal) preservation methods that can keep veggies that long,” he asserts in Tien Phong.


Similarly, Chu Van Thien at Vietnam Institute of Agricultural Engineering and Post-Harvest Technology, assumes that “pears and apples from China that can stay fresh for long months must have been treated with certain unknown chemicals.”


Three weeks ago, the Ministry of Health had a working session with the provincial government of Lang Son, a key gateway for Chinese fruits to enter Vietnam. At the meeting, Pham Xuan Da, head of the National Institute for Food Safety and Hygiene Testing, recalled he had purchased a pear, and the fruit after five months under normal weather conditions was still fresh. But Da admitted that it was not easy to find out what chemicals had been used on the fruit, according to Tuoi Tre.


Da explained that as many as 2,000 types of chemicals have been approved for food preservation, while Vietnam has been able to test 600 types only.


Upon the information, Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tien requested that relevant agencies in Vietnam work with partners in China to find out what chemicals have been used on food exported to Vietnam.


Similarly, Minister of Agriculture Cao Duc Phat, according to Vnexpress, has urged the Plant Protection Department to clarify whether banned chemicals have been used in fruits imported from China. They have to make public this month the findings why pears and apples can be kept fresh for five and nine months.


In an interview with Bao Dat Viet, Nguyen Xuan Hong of the Plant Protection Department says that his agency has uncovered 17 batches of fruits with 300 tons from China containing chemical residues exceeding permissible levels. Compared to regulations, there are certain chemical residues three times higher than the permissible levels, but that does not means such fruits are harmful.


“It is only unsafe when a person eats 70 apples or 50 kilos of carrot a day… The permissible is the warning threshold only,” Hong explains, adding he himself is still eating fruits from China without any worries at all.


Nguyen Lan Dung, a well-known scientist in the country, criticizes Hong for the assumption on the safety of Chinese-exported fruits. “I just want to question him about scientific grounds as the basis for his assumption. Without scientific evidence, he must not give such an assumption,” Dung says in Tien Phong.


Chinese traders are shipping hundreds of thousands of tons of fruits to Vietnam each year, and local consumers are still using such possibly-hazardous fruits days in days out, including Hong of the Plant Protection Department. But, as goes a popular proverb, one man’s food is another’s poison.


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