Illegal growth stimulants found in bean sprouts

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Bean sprouts made with growth stimulants (R) are shorter, more plump and do not have long roots like the ones made without chemicals

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has identified two illegal growth hormones being used to make bean sprouts after testing samples collected from household businesses in Ho Chi Minh City.

The two chemicals are the cell-division stimulant benzyl adenine (or 6-benzylaminopurine) and gibberelin A28, a growth hormone that regulates growth and influences various developmental processes, including stem elongation, germination, dormancy, flowering, sex expression and enzyme induction.

The tests were conducted after Thanh Nien reported about that unsafe chemicals were being used to make bean sprouts at businesses in the city's Hoc Mon District.

Nguyen Nhu Tiep, director of the Department for Quality Management at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Products, said labs at his department and the Plant Protection Department were testing for other possible chemicals used to make the sprouts.

"We are afraid that there will be more chemicals [used to make bean sprouts] that are poisonous and harmful to consumers' health."

However, he said relevant tests did not find the chemical sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), which Thanh Nien alleged was in Hoc Mon sprouts.

He said it was safe for bean sprout makers to use sodium carbonate produced for the food industry. "Otherwise, sodium carbonate products may contain other  chemicals that are poisonous when consumed by humans," he added.

Nguyen Xuan Hong, director of the Plant Protection Department, said the two chemicals are legal to import into Vietnam but are not allowed to be used in bean sprout production.

Bean sprouts, made by sprouting mung bean, are a common ingredient that can be eaten raw or cooked and are often served as accompaniment to many Vietnamese noodle soups, including Pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup).

Hong said eating bean sprouts made with the illegal chemicals posed risks to human health, without elaborating.

According to Thanh Nien's investigation last week, almost all bean sprout makers in Hoc Mon have shifted from the tradditional and safe method of making bean sprouts to an easier and more profitable process that employs the use of several chemicals.

These sprouts are being widely sold at both traditional markets and super markets in the city and many makers admitted that they do not dare to eat the products they make after using the chemicals.

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