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Seafood firms suffer high costs of safety testing

2013-06-13 11:24:51

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An optimal solution to reduce the volume of seafood exports being returned home has yet to be found, while short-term measures are costing local exporting enterprises dearly.

Many shipments returned

Ca Mau Province has the advantage of processing and exporting seafood products with big enterprises like Minh Phu Corp, Phu Cuong Group and Ca Mau Seafood Processing and Service Corp. Seafood products accounted for up to 99% of the province’s total exports in the first five months with over US$304 million, but its seafood exporting activities still carry many potential risks.

According to statistics of the provincial Department of Industry and Trade, there was 159 tons of seafood products worth over US$500,000 of five exporters returned by importers in May, raising the total volume of returned seafood exports in the five-month period to 536 tons worth US$3.65 million.

Returned shipments are mainly frozen processed shrimp which are violating food safety and hygiene requirements as they contain antibiotics exceeding the permitted levels of importing countries.

The National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department (Nafiqad) also reported three more exporting firms having export shipments which were warned to contain high Ethoxyquin and Trifluralin residues by Japan.

It is noteworthy that after the warning from importers in the January-February period, the situation has improved.

Japan is Vietnam’s biggest shrimp importer, but last year it erected a barrier of Ethoxyquin, an oxidant, and after tests of Trifluralin, an algae herbicide, against Vietnamese shrimp. The shrimp exports to Japan reached US$353 million from January 1 until May 15, dropping 2.5% year-on-year.

Enhancing farming management

Nguyen Nhu Tiep, head of Nafiqad, said that Japan officially removed all Trifluralin tests on shrimp imported from Vietnam last month after nearly three years of application. Vietnam has also proposed Japan to consider removing Ethoxyquin tests on all seafood shipments, he added.

“However, Japan requires Vietnam to prepare reports and have measures monitoring food hygiene requirements. If Japan finds it reasonable, the stringent residue monitoring will be removed,” Tiep said.

To avoid food hygiene violations, several measures have been taken such as controlling residue of antibiotics, preservatives and especially input materials and tightly inspecting every shipment before exporting.

In fact such measures have been implemented for many years and cost enterprises money, time as well as human resources. However, the risks of having shipments returned are still there.

Speaking at a workshop held recently by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Phan Thanh Chien, general director of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province-based Hai Viet Corp., said that the cost to reduce shipment returns amounted to dozens of billion of Vietnam dong per year. The firm paid VND3 billion per year to Nafiqad’s testing activities last year while its antibiotic testing cost was VND6 billion.

“Despite such costs, we still fail to eliminate all risks such as antibiotics and residue used in farming which are contained in materials provided by farmers. That we cannot control,” Chien said.

According to Tran Van Linh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (Vasep), measures Nafiqad and firms are employing are only short term. The agricultural industry should focus on monitoring farming areas, especially those of shrimp, instead of only paying attention to processing and production stages which have already met strict requirements of importers.