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Cablegate: Vietnamese Response to Melamine Contamination Shows

VZCZCXRO7077
RR RUEHAST RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD RUEHTM
DE RUEHHI #1320/01 3380745
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 030745Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8798
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 5338
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7199
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 0001
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 001320

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

HHS/OSSI/DSI PASS TO OGHA AND FDA
CDC FOR COGH AND CCEHIP/NCEH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAGR SENV TBIO EFIN ETRD VM
SUBJECT: VIETNAMESE RESPONSE TO MELAMINE CONTAMINATION SHOWS
CONTINUED WEAKNESSES IN FOOD SAFETY REGULATION

REF: A. HANOI 398; B. HANOI 409; C. HANOI 694; D. HANOI 588; E. 07
HANOI 2012; F. HO CHI MINH CITY 915

HANOI 00001320 001.2 OF 003


1. (U) Summary. Recent discoveries of melamine contamination in
milk products, eggs and animal feed imported from China highlight
gaps in Vietnam's food safety import programs. Though the
Government of Vietnam (GVN) eventually located, sampled, and tested
thousands of products, its initial reaction was to deny that it had
allowed the importation of suspect Chinese dairy products, changing
its position only when confronted by local media and consumers with
evidence of those products on market shelves. The resulting
discovery of thousands of tons of dairy products of unknown origin
raised additional concerns about the capacity of the Vietnamese food
safety and inspection system. The situation is made worse by the
continuing flow of licit and illicit shipments of suspect products
from China, a particular concern now that melamine contamination has
been found in Chinese poultry products. The Ministry of Health
(MOH) has taken a zero concentration tolerance approach to melamine,
which appears more stringent than standards adopted elsewhere around
the world, including the United States. The U.S. Embassy has
offered to assist the GVN to respond to legitimate health concerns
without unduly restricting imports. End Summary.

FIRST, MELAMINE CONTAMINATED MILK PRODUCTS FROM CHINA
----------------------------------------

2. (U) In early October, after initially stating that blacklisted
Chinese milk products had not been allowed to enter Vietnam, the
central Bureau for Food Safety and Hygiene of MOH ordered expanded
product safety testing after local reporters documented the
importation and sale of hundreds of tons of Chinese-origin milk.
Milk imports included those from three firms known to have sold
tainted milk in China: Sanlu, Yili and Longcom. (Note: Chinese
firms exported substantial amounts of milk products to Vietnam).
Testing confirmed that several batches of milk products imported
from China contained melamine. Inspections also turned up many tons
of milk powder of dubious origin, highlighting the difficulty in
tracking and managing the path of various food products on their way
to consumers. As of mid-November, MOH had announced the detection
of 33 melamine-contaminated products in Vietnam, including five tons
of powdered milk just imported into the country by a trading company
in Ho Chi Minh City.

THEN, CONTAMINATED ANIMAL FEED
------------------------------

3. (U) Following the discovery of contaminated milk products, local
media reported that the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Science and
Technology detected melamine in 80 out of 400 animal feed samples
imported from China. Soon thereafter, tests on 240 tons of fish
meal imported from China found traces melamine some containing up to
two parts per million (ppm) of melamine. (Note: The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) standard is 2.5 ppm of melamine per
kilogram of food products. End note.) GVN tested farmed fish
raised on contaminated feed and found no melamine in the fish. The
Vietnamese press also reported of melamine found in eggs smuggled
from China. To date, there are no reports of domestically produced
milk products, animal feed or related goods have been found to
contain melamine. Unlike China, Vietnam does not have a substantial
domestic milk production sector and does not require testing for
protein content in the processing of dairy products; therefore there
is not the same incentive to add melamine to those products.

GVN CONSULTED WITH WHO AND FAO
------------------------------

4. (SBU) Once confronted with clear evidence of melamine
contamination, GVN health officials turned to the World Health
Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)
for assistance in preparing a response and prevent consumer panic.
WHO and FAO recommended that consumers only chose products verified
as not containing melamine and with proper packaging, labels and
origin clearly displayed. WHO sent two Vietnamese technicians to
Singapore for training to detect melamine contamination.

GVN RESPONSE TO MELAMINE CONTAMINATION OF MILK PRODUCTS
--------------------------------------------- ----------

5. (SBU) Following consultations with WHO and FAO, MOH established
inter-ministerial teams to conduct inspections, suspended the

HANOI 00001320 002.2 OF 003


distribution of all milk products without a clear origin and brand
name, and standardized melamine testing methods. Many local stores
simply pulled off the shelves all milk products with a Chinese
connection. GVN officials subsequently penalized many small traders
for trading milk without labels or of dubious origin. In late
October, Vietnamese officials announced plans to return over 393
tons of melamine-contaminated milk powder imported from China and
destroy 384 tons of contaminated liquid milk and milk ingredients,
also from China.

A ZERO TOLERANCE APPROACH
-------------------------

6. (SBU) Despite WHO advice to adopt international standards, which
generally allow minimal presence of melamine in food products,
Vietnam adopted a standard allowing no detectable concentration of
melamine in dairy products in Vietnam. This contrasts with the
general international threshold (consistent with U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) policy) of 2.5 ppm of melamine per kilogram of
food products and 1 ppm for infant formula.

MELAMINE BEYOND DAIRY PRODUCTS
------------------------------

7. (U) Following the news of possible contamination of imported
Chinese poultry products, Vietnam began inspecting eggs and animal
feeds throughout the country and required all shipments of animal
feed imported into the country to present certificates of origin to
customs offices. Local supermarkets requested egg suppliers to
provide free-melamine certificates with the products sold in their
markets. The GVN then announced plans to cordon-off affected farms
and destroy the feed. Initial testing has not found any melamine
contamination in samples taken from Ho Chi Minh City supermarkets.


CONSUMPTION CONTINUES, REGARDLESS OF SAFETY CONCERNS
--------------------------------------------- -------

8. (SBU) Despite wide media coverage of melamine contamination and a
broad, though somewhat delayed GVN response, Vietnamese consumers
still face exposure to melamine-contaminated goods, including
poultry products illegally smuggled from China. (Note: this is not
the first public health issue involving smuggled Chinese poultry, as
chickens smuggled into Vietnam from China repeatedly have tested
positive for the H5N1 highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza,
Refs A and B). Additionally, low-income Vietnamese consumers find
it hard to resist low-priced imports. In contrast, the urban
emerging middle class, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City, is voting
with their paycheck. Large Vietnamese retail chains like Saigon
Coop, which controls about 40 percent of Vietnam's modern retail
sector, say that their store orders indicate that greater numbers of
Vietnamese consumers are switching to high-quality U.S. products
despite their price.

U.S. ACTIONS
------------

9. (SBU) U.S. milk product exports to Vietnam approach USD 100
million per year. Embassy Agricultural Attache drafted a letter to
the MOH's Vietnam Food Administration offering to assist GVN efforts
to prevent adulteration, while requesting that Vietnam rely upon
realistic science-based analysis that will not unduly impede the
delivery of imported milk products to Vietnamese consumers. The VFA
responded that it appreciated the offer of assistance and would
notify the U.S. Embassy if it received any approvals for new
regulations related to melamine.

COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) Vietnam faces an uphill battle to regulate domestic food
safety: long, porous borders, low technical capacity and a history
of traditional (versus modern) retail (Refs C, D and E) mean that
GVN authorities do not have the capacity to track imports adequately
or to implement a comprehensive inspection scheme. Interestingly,
Vietnam's domestic food safety regulators are beginning to learn
from Vietnam's exporters that comprehensive supply chain management
and rigorous testing are both key to maintaining markets.
Vietnamese companies are keen to learn more on how to protect their
brands -- as demonstrated by the hundreds of businesses that turned

HANOI 00001320 003.2 OF 003


out for the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission seminars on
U.S. product safety standards this September (ref F).
At the same time, a zero-tolerance approach is designed to fail.
Vietnam is unlikely to prevent imports of legitimate products that
meet international standards, and it will likely create incentives
to smuggle products into the country. There is no quick solution to
Vietnam's food safety deficiencies. While GVN announced a major
program last year to improve capacity for food safety to improve
overall monitoring, testing and enforcement, little donor support
has come to the table.

11. (U) This cable was coordinated with Consulate General Ho Chi
Minh City.

MICHALAK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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