Chicken sold at a US supermarket. Photo credit: Saigon Times Online
The Department of Livestock Production Wednesday said chicken legs imported to Vietnam from the US are being sold at a "surprisingly" low price here, but reserved comment on local poultry producers' accusation of dumping against US chicken exporters.
Nguyen Van Trong, deputy head of the department, said it was "quite surprising" that US chicken thighs are sold at VND20,000 (90 cents) a kilogram here considering the price must include import duty and transport cost.
Vietnam imported 66,000 tons of chicken from the US in the first six months, two-thirds of it thighs.
In the US, chicken thigh is priced at $3-3.5 per kilogram, yet it sells for 50-60 percent lower than local products in Vietnam, the department said.
The department's statement came just a day after another of its deputy chiefs, Tong Xuan Chinh, had told news website VnExpress they were yet to discover any place in Vietnam where US chicken thigh sold at less than a dollar per kilogram as claimed by the Southeastern Poultry Association.
The association, which represents more than 3,000 farmers in Ho Chi Minh City and nearby provinces like Binh Duong and Dong Nai, announced last week that it was preparing to file an anti-dumping lawsuit against US chicken thighs.
It said its members have been suffering huge losses since they could not compete with the cheap imports.
Nevertheless, Trong refused to comment on the dumping accusation, saying his and other agencies have to study the case further and take everything into consideration before drawing any conclusion.
Asked for possible reasons why the US chickens are so cheap, department officials said it could be related to their quality.
Trong said in the US, the EU and many other countries around the world, chicken breast is the main product, and the thigh is not as popular and often cheaper.
Moreover, importers could have bought products close to their expiry dates and thus cheap, he said.
Phung Huu Hao, deputy chief of the agriculture ministry's quality check department, agreed, adding they could even be imported from avian flu-stricken areas at low prices and then have their package labels adjusted before being sold in Vietnam.
But authorities have yet to find any problem with the quality of US chickens, he said.
According to Hao, Vietnam has in place quality requirements in accordance with World Trade Organization norms to ensure the safety of imported foods. But since quality checks of imports are made on random samples, authorities rarely discover poor quality products.
It is also not easy to discover chemical residues in imports when exporters immerse their goods in a permitted antibacterial solution, he added.
A food importer told Thanh Nien that the worst avian flu outbreak in the US's history began last December, but Vietnam only banned chicken imports from that country on May 1 this year.
Before the ban some Vietnamese importers had already bought huge amounts of chickens sold at cheap prices by US producers trying to cut their losses, the importer said.