A news report has exposed a shocking farming practice that can make you think twice about the country's beloved vegetable
A man takes a big bowl of waste vehicle oil from a bucket and splash the thick black liquid directly onto his water spinach field.
He repeats the procedure, until all of the young plants are given the oil treatment. Some of his farming neighbors in Thuong Xuan Ward in District 12, Ho Chi Minh City are showed doing the same in a video recently published by news website Zing.
The farmers claim that the waste oil works well as a cheap pesticide and it can help the plant grow fast, strong and green.
One woman living in the area says that the farmers do not eat the oil-treated spinach, but plant their own vegetables on a different field.
The video has stirred widespread public concerns as water spinach, known in Vietnamese as rau muong, which is arguably one of the most popular vegetables in the country. It shows up on family dinner tables at least once a week as it can be cooked in various ways into different dishes. Many also eat it raw.
In an attempt to calm the public, Ho Chi Minh City food safety officials held a conference Tuesday guaranteeing that they have taken 20 samples of water spinach in the area for testing and they are all safe.
Nguyen Thi Le Thoa, in charge of food safety at the city’s plant protection department, said the agency took the samples from the area featured in the video, and all of them contained traces of heavy metals such as arsenic, zinc and copper.
“But the amount is at acceptable levels,” Thoa said, as cited by news website Zing.
She said around 1,000 families in the city plant water spinach for sale but only 988 of them have signed an agreement with the authorities not to use waste oil.
But the authorities have only found one family using the oil. It’s not clear if the farmers received any fines, she said.
Thoa said her agency has also tested 1,000 fruit and vegetable samples this year and only eight of them contained pesticide residues.
Matter of luck
Other officials at the meeting do not feel assured.
Trinh Xuan Thieu, Party secretary of Phu Nhuan District, said that there are still places selling poor quality food products in the city despite the large number of management agencies.
He said there is almost no control of the quality and origin of food products at wet markets, especially the small ones.
“Many consumers said they don’t feel safe even when shopping at supermarkets,” Thieu said, as cited by Zing.
“Consumers can only bet on luck, and diseases related to food consumption has been rising,” he said. “People are not healthy due to the accumulation of poisonous chemicals from the food they eat.”
Reports at a conference on cancer treatment and prevention in Hanoi Tuesday showed a rapid increase of cancer patients in Vietnam, and one major factor is food tainted with preservatives and other chemicals.
Latest figures from the Health Ministry showed that cancer cases increased from nearly 69,000 in 2000 to more than 126,300 in 2010 and is estimated to surge to 190,000 in 2020 while the World Health Organization data showed Vietnam has 110 cancer deaths per every 100,000 people.
A recent report from the food safety department at the health ministry showed that inspections in the first ten months this year found 10 percent of fruit and vegetables sold nationwide contained excessive amount of pesticides.
Dr. Tran Van Thuan, director of the national cancer research institute and deputy director of Hanoi’s leading cancer hospital K, said, as cited by Nhan Dan newspaper, that toxic chemicals in food are responsible for 30 percent of the cancer cases, the same rate caused by smoking.