VINASTAS’s incident provides warning lessons on managements of media and associations

01/11/2016

Nearly 70 percent of fish sauce samples analyzed in a recent survey by the nonprofit Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinastas) contained more than the legal limit of arsenic. Results showed 67.33 percent of the samples contained from 1 to 5mg of arsenic per liter of sauce, whereas the maximum allowable arsenic content limit is 1 mg per liter. The survey covered 150 samples produced by 88 different fish sauce manufacturers and analysts found that only 16.67 percent of the products met Vietnamese standards, Vinastas told reporters in a press conference in October 17th in Hanoi. A controversial conclusion that has caused a lot of impacts to the society, mostly negative ones.
Apparently, this careless conclusion has cost significant damages to the local fish sauce industry. In a complaint sent to the PM and several relevant agencies on October 21, The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP), the Ho Chi Minh City Foods Association and three fish sauce associations in Nha Trang, Phan Thiet and Phu Quoc said that VINASTAS' conclusion had caused misunderstandings about organic arsenic in seafood which is not poisonous, and the toxic inorganic arsenic.
"VINASTAS' conclusion does not comply with international standards on arsenic levels in foods in general and fish sauce in particular. It also conflicts with the Vietnamese Ministry of Health's regulations on inorganic arsenic levels in fish sauce," the complaint said.
According to VASEP, VINASTAS' warning that fish sauce with higher protein levels will be contaminated with higher arsenic levels is worrying local people who use it every day and so threatening the local fish sauce and seafood industry. There have been doubts and worries among local consumers about fish sauce and some supermarkets and shops have stopped selling the product including Fivimart, VASEP said.
Leaders of the five associations have asked the PM to investigate the situation, assess their losses, and issue fines to those illegally making and spreading information about the list of fish sauce products containing high arsenic levels.
The Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc earlier assigned the Ministry of Industry and Trade to cooperate with relevant agencies to look into the case and report to the Government before November 11. The Ministry of Health established an interdisciplinary inspection team made up of representatives from the Ministries of Health, Industry and Trade and Agriculture and Rural Development and other relevant agencies to inspect the observance of legislation on food safety concerning the production and trading of fish sauce in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and the provinces of Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan.
A total of 247 samples from 210 brands produced by 82 fish sauce manufacturers (both by traditional and industrial methods) at markets and several supermarkets were randomly selected to be tested. The team found that none of the samples taken for testing contained inorganic arsenic or other heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium. They also did not detect any samples of fish sauce produced from only water and chemicals. All inspected manufacturers made fish sauce from fish, salt and food additives in different proportions, according to the tests.
The use food additives is allowed in the process of fish sauce production provided that the additives are included in the permitted list and that their contents do not exceed the allowable limit as stipulated and ensure the purity of the fish sauce. There is no limit on the maximum number of food additives allowed to be used for one product. These regulations of the Ministry of Health are definitely in accordance with the Codex standards for food additives, as well as the regulations of other countries in the ASEAN region and around the world.
In conclusion, the information saying that fish sauce is made from water and chemicals and contains inorganic arsenic, a substance harmful to human health, is not accurate, causing panic among consumers and having an adverse effect on the production and trading of the fish sauce manufactured by both traditional and industrial methods. For the goals of protecting the health and rights of consumers, as well as ensuring the legitimate business rights of enterprises as stipulated by the law, the MOH insisted that the provision of information relating to food safety be objective, accurate, honest, sufficient and timely.
Here, we can see how excessive VINASTAS abused its power to manipulate information and caused a threatening information campaign. It is unclear what this association’s purposes but seeing losses, no one could view them as for common good to the people. Minister of Information and Communications Truong Minh Tuan described the reports as a “media incident”. Firstly, the information from VINASTAS is unclear and does not explain that arsenic comes in organic and inorganic forms. Some analysts sensed it as a filthy business campaign from artificial sauces industry.
There is a sign of abnormality in the release of the document. The abnormality here is that following the release of the communiqué’ by VINASTAS, the document was then reprinted or quoted by many on social networks. The way the story reported was the same, even the headlines. This shows negligence in the work of our reporters and sub-editors.
However, many readers, with their good scientific knowledge, immediately recognized something was wrong with these articles. They immediately thought there must be someone behind the scenes trying to cause damage to our traditional fish sauce for their own benefit. The feedback from technical people and their analysis in many newspapers and online provided good insight for readers to draw their own conclusions.
But, if there had been no negligence or poor scientific knowledge of some in the media or even deliberate distortion of the truth, and reporters writing stories about food safety should read the Ministry of Health’s safety standards. The inaccurate scientific information wouldn’t have been so widespread across the country. This is an important lesson for managing and supervising the media and associations, especially in making laws on press and associations./.
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All comments [ 10 ]


John Smith 1/11/16 10:15

This communication incident was abnormal and I have followed the incident closely. The term arsenic used in the press communiqué released by Vinatas is murky.

Jane smartnic 1/11/16 10:16

In my opinion, Vinastas should make clear the difference between organic and inorganic arsenic present in the fish sauce. Arsenic is known as a poison and carcinogen, but the organic form found in seafood is generally believed to be harmless.

MaskOf Zero 1/11/16 16:40

Reporters writing stories about food safety should read the Ministry of Health’s safety standards. I’m sure if they read the Ministry of Health food safety standards, there wouldn’t have been such “a threatening communication campaign”.

Gentle Moon 1/11/16 16:42

Many people have said social media has become a ‘weapon’ used in the recent ‘war’ between producers of industrial fish sauce and traditional fish sauce.

Love Peace 1/11/16 16:50

The Ministry of Information and Communication has been working with all information outlets to make the Vietnamese media clean and efficient and ensure Vietnamese media workers are law abiding citizens.

Pack Cassiopian 1/11/16 16:51

The information saying that fish sauce is made from water and chemicals and contains inorganic arsenic, a substance harmful to human health, is not accurate, causing panic among consumers and having an adverse effect on the production and trading of the fish sauce manufactured by both traditional and industrial methods.

yobro yobro 1/11/16 16:53

VINASTAS must explain to the public that organic arsenic in fish sauce causes no harm to people's health, and soon produce a clear explanation regarding the standards of fish sauce.

Only Solidar 1/11/16 16:54

the announcement has created a misunderstanding about arsenic. Arsenic is divided into organic (not harmful) and inorganic (harmful) forms. The organic form found in seafood is not harmful.

LawrenceSamuels 1/11/16 16:54

The testing is not suitable with international standards on arsenic content in food and also MoH’s standards on arsenic content in fish sauce.

Love Peace 1/11/16 16:56

Vinastas is believed to have provided misleading information by using the term “arsenic” without clarifying the type of arsenic, resulting in unjustified panic among consumers.

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