Association rejects ‘sponsored survey’ allegations from fish sauce makers

The association behind a food safety survey that found an excessive amount of arsenic in dozens of Vietnamese fish sauces has dismissed allegations that it was sponsored by a condiment maker to carry out the study.

The Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinastas) collected 150 samples produced by 88 different fish sauce manufacturers available on the market, and found that only 16.67% of the products met Vietnamese standards, it told reporters in Hanoi on October 17.

According to the test, 67.33% of the samples contained more than the maximum allowable arsenic content of 1mg per liter. Amounts found in the surveyed products ranged from 1 to 5mg/l.

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A traditional fish sauce making facility is seen in Kien Giang Province, located in southern Vietnam.

The survey’s results have left members of the public in shock, with fish sauce, the amber-colored liquid extracted from the fermentation of fish with sea salt, a must-have condiment for Vietnamese families.

Skepticism quickly emerged around the survey, with suggestions that a fish sauce maker was behind the study, and will soon introduce a new product addressing the arsenic issue.

Vinastas has also been criticized for misleading consumers by using the term arsenic.

Arsenic exists in both organic and inorganic forms, but only the latter is toxic, according to the World Health Organization.

“Organic arsenic, found in fish, seawater and seaweed, is safe for human consumption, evidenced by the fact that Vietnamese people have been using fish sauce for thousands of years without a problem,” Associate Professor and Doctor Nguyen Duy Thinh said.

The expert said inorganic arsenic compounds can be found in coke emission, fuel and chemical wastes.

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“Vinastas did not make clear that the excessive amount of arsenic found in fish sauce was in its organic form, spreading fear amongst the public,” Thinh said.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper put these allegations to Vuong Ngoc Tuan, Vinastas deputy general secretary, on Tuesday, and the association representative denied them all.

Tuan said that Vinastas is an independent association and all of its surveys are carried out as such.

“We rely on no organization or business,” he said.

“We conducted a survey on coffee safety last year and this time we chose fish sauce as it is a popular and widely used product.”

Tuan admitted, however, that Vinastas, as a non-profit association, does need sponsorship from entities in and outside the country.

“For this fish sauce survey we received sponsorship from a domestic organization,” he said, refusing to name the sponsor.

He rejected allegations that the sponsorship affects the objectivity of the study. “The sponsor is not a fish sauce-related business,” he underlined.

The Vinastas official added that the association has yet to publicize the names of the fish sauce manufacturers involved in the study.

“If there are other reports circulating on the Internet related to fish sauce at the same time as our study results were announced, it is merely coincidence,” he said.

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