Hanoi (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food cross from China into Vietnam for sale in local markets. A lot of it is adulterated or containing cancer-causing agents, kept in toxic plastic bags or stored without any concern for minimum hygienic standards or health safety regulations. This has been made easier by widespread corruption among Vietnamese border agents, who allow illegal shipments to enter the country in exchanges for bribes despite the risks to public health. In fact, the number of cancer cases related to food and drinks has jumped exponentially.
Each year, some 300,000 new cases of cancer are recorded in Vietnam; 60 per cent end in death. Most of them are linked to toxic or badly preserved food. Food poisoning is also commonplace. Last week for instance, five people, all members of ethnic minorities, were poisoned from eating food imported from China. A five-year-old child died.
The border post in Lao Cai is one of the hubs for the underground trade. Recently, the authorities found that "five times the quantity of grapes allowed" came from China through the post-all sold in Vietnamese markets with US brand names.
Local sources said that quantities of the famous Red Apple of Yantai, Shandong, were found wrapped in toxic bags.
Food products made in China like dried fruits (peaches, apricots and apples) are sold with "three times the level of additives permitted," which can cause cancer; additives like saccharin, sodium cyclamate, carmine, amaranth and sulphur dioxide.
About "80 per cent of dried fruit comes China," said Ms Minh, a merchant in Hanoi's Dong Xuan market. China monopolises sales because its "prices are 30 to 50 lower" compared to Vietnamese products. It is a flourishing business even though everyone knows that they are "dangerous products."
Food safety experts told AsiaNews that "many products sold in Vietnam do not have a clear point of origin" and are "without safety warranties." Tonnes of melamine-tainted milk (a scandal that was major news in China), poisoned food, pesticides in crops and toxic bags are but some examples.
However, Vietnamese authorities are hard pressed to stop the flow because of widespread corruption at border posts among customs officials who turn a blind eye in exchange for money. By contrast, China has effectively barred Vietnamese products from its domestic markets because of ongoing trade disputes with its southern neighbour. The main victim in all of this is the people of Vietnam.