Viet media fined for 'toxic' fish sauce reports

HANOI • Vietnam fined scores of news outlets yesterday for publishing now-discredited reports about toxic fish sauce, accusing them of sparking public panic over the staple condiment in a country plagued by food scares.

Reports emerged in mid-October that some fish sauce contained dangerously high levels of arsenic, with the local media mainly citing a survey by the state-controlled Vietnam Standards and Consumers Association (Vinastas).

The stories ignited widespread fear in Vietnam, where fish sauce is consumed daily by most of the country's 93 million people - as a dipping sauce, marinade or in soups.

The government said on Monday that the reports failed to distinguish between highly toxic inorganic arsenic and organic arsenic which is present mainly in seafood and is less toxic. The Ministry of Information and Communication said on its website: "The news caused panic in our society, causing consumers to boycott traditional fish sauce... seriously undermining Vietnam's age-old fish sauce production."

Traditional fish sauce is made from fermented fish, while more modern versions are made with artificial flavouring. The survey suggested that traditionally made sauces were toxic.

The ministry fined 50 news organisations for running the reports, including the mainstream Thanh Nien, which was slapped with a nearly US$9,000 ($12,800) penalty. The newspaper received the highest fine because it also ran its own independent survey. It was accused of "publishing incorrect information that undermined national interests", the ministry said.

An investigation by the Health Ministry concluded fish sauce to be safe.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2016, with the headline 'Viet media fined for 'toxic' fish sauce reports'. Print Edition | Subscribe