Vietnam testing dried seeds after toxins found in China

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Vietnamese authorities are testing dried seeds sold as snacks after traces of aluminium and talcum powder were found in seeds in China.

The Ministry of Health's Food Safety Department said by Tuesday 10 samples obtained from Hanoi markets had tested negative for aluminum sulfate and talcum powder.

But it said the sample was too small to reach a conclusion and has ordered large-scale nationwide tests, especially on samples obtained from border areas.

The Chinese media reported at the end of February that seven samples of roasted sunflower seeds contained aluminum sulfate used to make the shell crispier and talcum powder to make the surface look smooth and shiny.

The metal, which is not easily expelled from the body, can cause memory loss and brain atrophy, while the powder is carcinogenic.

Tran Quang Trung, head of the Food Safety Department, said the two are currently not on a list of substances to test for in seed products imported from China, but are prohibited in Vietnam.

The ministry has since February allowed the use of potassium aluminum sulfate in canned vegetables including roots, nuts, mushrooms, and seaweed, while ammonium aluminium sulfate can be used in cooked seafood products.

Talcum powder is allowed to be added to baby formula and cream powder.

Lam Hung, head of poison control at the department, said the toxicity of an additive also depends on its interaction with the food product, which is why an additive can be used in one product but not another.

Dried sunflower and watermelon seeds are popular snacks, especially during Lunar New Year, with large quantities sold without labels.

In Ho Chi Minh City, after watermelon seeds made headlines in late 2009 for containing rhodamine B, an industrial dye that can be carcinogenic, people have switched to pumpkin and sunflower seeds, which now cost more than VND50,000 (US$2.40) a kilogram.

Vendors say they buy sunflower seeds from northern Vietnam, but are not sure if they are processed in Vietnam.

A Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development source said most sunflower seeds come from China and Russia since Vietnam only has a few areas in the northern and central highlands where the flower grows.

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