The report from the Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinastas) on arsenic levels in fish sauce violated regulations in Term 12, Article 5 of the Food Safety Law, according to a new report from the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT).

Vinastas’s announcement that arsenic levels in fish sauce exceeded safety levels was wrong, MoIT found, and created a great deal of misunderstanding and affected production and business in the fish sauce industry.

An MoIT investigation found that Vinastas’s survey lacked proper planning and transparency.

The conduct of the survey was not approved or supervised by high-level leaders at the association. All 150 samples were purchased without receipts, as required under Ministry of Finance regulations, and the process of encoding the samples was not comprehensive.

The survey was also sponsored by an organization, counter to Article 28 of the Consumer Protection Law.

Vinastas announced on October 17 that a survey it conducted nationally found that most fish sauce has arsenic contents exceeding permitted levels. It said that of 150 samples of 88 fish sauce brands tested, the arsenic content in 101 samples was higher than the permitted 1 mg/liter, with some having as much as 5 mg/liter. Vinastas underscored that “fish sauce with higher protein contents tend to have more arsenic.”

The announcement created misunderstandings about two arsenic forms, one following QCVN8-2:2011/BYT regulations and one poisonous.

In particular, an article headlined “85 per cent of samples of 88 fish sauce enterprises don’t meet standards” on Vinastas’s website on October 18 stated that 104 samples did not meet standards regarding arsenic levels. Such statements are incorrect, MoIT wrote, and created panic within society. 

MoIT reported to the Prime Minister and proposed that Vinastas be directed to publicly correct information on its survey and make clear the responsibility of relevant individuals. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) should be assigned to verify Vinastas’s legal qualifications in participating in consumer protection activities and assign the Ministry of Health (MoH) to cooperate with MoIT in addressing violations by Vinastas in accordance with legal regulations.

On October 25, Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh directed the Vietnam Competition Authority to establish an inter-industry investigation team to study legal regulations relating to Vinastas.

The investigation team included MoIT, MoHA, the Ministry of Science and Technology, MoH, the Ministry of Public Security, and the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA).

It focused on clarifying the legal basis of Vinastas conducting surveys and announcing results. The team also identified legal violations by Vinastas and any sponsorship received from enterprises or science and technology organizations when conducting its surveys in recent times.