Imported soy beans sold at a grain shop in Ho Chi Minh City's District 5. Photo: Chi Nhan
Imported genetically modified (GM) foods, especially grains, have flooded the Vietnamese market in recent years, but they are almost surreptitiously sold, with people knowing little about them.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, soy bean imports this year top 1.2 million tons, with the majority coming from the US and Canada, both major GM producers.
But most soy bean products in the market are not labeled as “GMO”.
Thanh Nien checked at a supermarket in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 5, and of several dozen products made from soy beans, only one carried a label saying “wholly made from Vietnamese soy beans.” The others did not indicate origin.
The owner of a grains store on Tran Chanh Chieu Street in District 5 told Thanh Nien his shop had both Vietnamese and imported soy beans. US products were cheaper than Vietnamese but not as tasty, he said.
He said he did not know anything about GMO.
The Quality Assurance and Testing Center No. 3 (Quatest 3) said it had conducted a test on some agricultural products sold in HCMC in 2010 and found 111 out of 323 samples, or 34.4 percent, were GMO. The GM products were mostly soy beans, potatoes and tomatoes.
The tests were done at the request of the HCMC Department of Science and Technology. None have been done since.
An executive at an animal feed manufacturer, who asked not to be named, told Thanh Nien the company imported half the soy beans needed for its production from the US, Brazil, and Argentina.
In March this year the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development allowed farmers to grow three varieties of GM corn sold by Swiss firm Syngenta for food and animal feed.
But consumers do not have much choice since most GM products are not labelled so.
Phan Thi Viet Thu, deputy chairperson of the HCMC Association of Consumer Rights Protection, said the Law on Food Safety and Hygiene required products with GM ingredients making up more than 5 percent to have labels, but the lack of detailed instructions meant no product in the market is labeled as GMO.
“It is not fair on customers. Authorities should quickly make it mandatory to label GM products.”