Vietnam’s Ministry of Health on Tuesday announced a fine of more than VND5.8 billion (US$260,000) against Philippine beverage firm URC for producing and selling products with high lead content.
The ministry said URC Vietnam, a unit of Philippine producer Universal Robina, is punished for breaking food safety regulations with a batch of green tea C2 manufactured on February 4, 2016 and a batch of energy drink Rong Do produced on November 10, 2015.
Test results showed that the products from these batches have lead content from 0.053 to 0.085 mg/l, above the permitted limit of 0.05 mg/l.
The company was ordered to recall the batches from the market earlier this month. But a large number of affected bottles worth VND3.9 billion ($174,200) had already been sold and could not be retrieved, according to local media reports.
Inspectors also said two of URC's warehouses failed to meet food safety regulations, with spoilt products being stored next to those for sale.
The fine announced Tuesday showed that the Ministry of Health chose to stand by its own findings regarding the quality of the company's bestselling products, following various and conflicting results released by other local testing agencies.
The case, apparently one of the biggest food safety scandals in Vietnam in years, caught the attention of the public and the press after some social media posts accused the Philippine producer of bribing some quality control officers to modify test results and clear their products.
There have also been claims that some journalists from various media outlets chose to ignore the company's serious violations.
The health ministry has also identified three other batches of URC products with high lead content and ordered a recall. No cash fine has been imposed on these three batches, possibly because the ministry is still trying to determine the exact number of tainted bottles.