Fish sauce from Vietnam found to contain excessive arsenic

Published on
October 20, 2016

Nearly 70 percent of fish sauce samples analyzed in a recent survey by the nonprofit Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinastas) contained more than the legal limit of arsenic.

Results showed 67.33 percent of the samples contained from 1 to 5mg of arsenic per liter of sauce, whereas the maximum allowable arsenic content limit is 1 mg per liter.

The survey covered 150 samples produced by 88 different fish sauce manufacturers and analysts found that only 16.67 percent of the products met Vietnamese standards, Vinastas told reporters in Hanoi.

The tested fish sauce products were collected from trade centers, small markets and food stores in 10 different Vietnamese provinces and cities.

The test focused on five parameters including nitrogen and arsenic contents and labeling, with 83.33 percent of the samples failing to meet standards on at least one parameter, according to Vinastas.

“The most noticeable violation was in the real protein content of products being much lower than claimed on the label,” the association commented.

Vuong Ngoc Thuan, Vinastas deputy general secretary, assured reporters at a press conference that the arsenic found in the fish sauce samples was in its organic form, so the sauces were not harmful to human health.

“There were no traces of inorganic arsenic found in the surveyed fish sauces,” Tuan said.

According to the World Health Organization, arsenic is highly toxic in its inorganic form, and long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking water and food can cause cancer and skin lesions. It has also been associated with developmental defects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes.

However, Tuan added that the manufacturers’ incorrect labeling of the protein content meant Vietnamese consumers were overpaying for fish sauce.
“Consumers shouldn’t be buying a product with a low protein content at the same price as one with a high protein content,” he said.

Fish sauce, an amber-colored liquid traditionally extracted from the fermentation of fish with sea salt, is a must-have condiment for Vietnamese families, with 95 percent of households using the product in their meals, according to Vinastas.

Vietnam’s population consumes about 200 million liters of fish sauce a year, but only 50 million liters is produced in the traditional way. The rest is industrially manufactured by mixing fish essence, flavoring, coloring, preservatives and sweetener.

The Vietnam Food Administration said it is also reviewing the fish sauce market and will report its results to the government.

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