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Contaminated Food Imports Victimise Local Consumers

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The huge volume of expired and contaminated products, notably tainted food being imported into Laos, is escalating concerns among local people over their long-term health risks.

Relevant authorities have been encouraged to reinforce their inspections to protect the interests of consumers and penalise those contravening the law.

Health Minister Associate Prof. Dr Bounkong Syhavong told Vientiane Times on Wednesday that health officials in cooperation with other sectors mainly focused on inspecting products at local markets where the majority of food items are offered for sale.

The minister described the challenges of his sector in undertaking regular inspections in all locations including stalls along streets where expired products were also found.

“We don’t have enough funding, equipment and officials to inspect all expired, contaminated and substandard food at markets and other stalls,” Dr Bounkong said.

Health officials warned that consumers will need to take into account the expiry date of products before any purchase admitting there were insufficient inspections carried out by law enforcement sectors on tainted food and other expired products.

Just recently authorities in various provinces organised a ceremony to destroy expired products.

In Thakhaek town of Khammuan province, authorities inspected 46 shops at a local market and bus station and found 10 items from 24 shops that were expired.

The expired items included food and drinks worth several million kip. In June, authorities in this province also held a ceremony to destroy out-of-date goods worth over 13 million kip.

In Nong district of Savannakhet province, authorities disposed of illegal and expired products worth about 8 million kip. The deteriorated items included tobacco, cosmetics, food and herbicide.

Director General of Setthathirath Hospital, Associate Prof. Dr KhampePhongsavath has warned contaminated or deteriorated food could pose a serious, perhaps even fatal, health risk for the public.

Most of the expired or fake products found by authorities are mainly insecticides, cooking ingredients, food, especially frozen seafood, snacks, tea and coffee.

Critics say some traders use chemicals on vegetables, formalin in seafood and meats to make them more attractive so customers will buy them. In addition, fresh fruits are also contaminated therefore regular inspections with all necessary testing equipment is required to deal with the problem.

Unfortunately, while Lao authorities already have an analysis laboratory, they lack mobile equipment to test in-the-field and fail to enforce the laws by penalising traders who intentionally sell contaminated food.

The Ministry of Health mainly works with the industry and commerce, agriculture and forestry, and science and technology sectors in undertaking the inspections.

Last year they discovered imported counterfeit and expired products such as frozen seafood, tobacco and herbicides. It was found that some of the products were past their sell-by date and some had been mixed with other products.

Source: Vientiane Times