Bar lowered to allow toxic foreign liquor into Vietnam

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Vietnam food safety authorities have loosed ingredient requirements to allow select foreign wine products into the country since 2006, according to a new investigation by Tuoi Tre.

National liquor laws require the amount of aldehyde to be under 20 milligrams per liter for 100 percent-alcohol products. But the Department of Food Safety and Hygiene at the Ministry of Health has allowed products containing dozens of times more aldehyde to be imported into Vietnam.

In October last year, the department allowed Saigon Food Production and Commerce No.1 Joint Stock Co. to import XO Leopold brandy, which is only 40 percent alchohal, by raising the aldehyde amount cap to 300 mg/liter after Ho Chi Minh City Institute of Public Health Hygiene refused to let the company import the product with the announced aldehyde amount of 230.15 mg/liter.

The department did the same to help the International Wine Joint Stock Company in Binh Duong Province import Solera Reserva brandy. The product was measured by the city institute as containing 286.81 mg of aldehyde per liter.

"Many firms tried to import foreign liquor products with the amounts of toxins like aldehyde, furfurol and methanol higher than the country's standards, but we didn't allow them to," the Institute of Public Health Hygiene said in a note sent to the Department of Food Safety and Hygiene in November last year.

But the institute said that the department then approved the products, despite the fact that they did not meet Vietnames standards.

"Tests later even found the amounts higher than announced," said the institute, adding that the Department of Food Safety and Hygiene then approved those new levels as well.

The institute said such cases were common.

"Thus our tests over foreign liquor no longer serve as a food-safety-and-hygiene barrier," it said in the note.

In December 2006, the department allowed the Saigon company to import XO Leopold brandy that the company announced contained 140-180mg/liter of aldehyde. But when the product arrived in Vietnam, it turned out that the amount was more than that, so the department raised the cap to 300mg/liter.

As the products were only 38-39 percent alcohol, the department has actually raised the aldehyde amount cap for aforementioned products by nearly 40 times, from 2mg/liter allowed for liquor of 100 percent alcohol.

Hoang Thuy Tien, deputy head of the department, told Tuoi Tre last month Vietnam's liquor standards cannot be applied to foreign brands because they were produced differently from local booze.

Tien said the European Commission only set caps on methanol, not aldehyde.

Aldehyde is a residual from liquor manufacture, in direct ratio to the alcohol amount, said a health expert who requested anonymity.

It is dangerous to the brain and has been linked to mental problems and strange behavior, he said.

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