Vietnamese agencies have done almost nothing to the millions of tons of genetically modified maize and soybean that have been annually imported to the country for more than a dozen years until recently, when two ministries approved a type of genetically modified corn.
Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods produced from organisms that have had specific changes introduced into their DNA using genetic engineering.
While the health effects of GM foods on humans remain debatable, Vietnam has imported a large amount of corn and soybean from countries that approve GM crops for years.
The imported corn and soybean are used to make soya milk, tofu and animal feed, while management agencies do not conduct checks for their genetic modification, thus releasing no warnings to consumers on the bad effects the foods may have.
“It is required that foods made from GM organisms be specifically labeled to let consumers know of their origin, but no competent agencies have done so,” said Le Ba Lich, chairman of the Vietnam Animal Feed Association.
Lich said Vietnam has to import 90 percent of its corn and soybean from the U.S., Brazil, and Argentina, where as much as 80 to 90 percent of corn and soybean crops are genetically modified.
“How could managing agencies ensure that the imports are not GM organisms?” Lich said.
Nguyen Xuan Duong, deputy head of the Department of Livestock Production under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, admitted that Vietnam does not check its imports of animal feed materials for genetic modification.
“But in the trade agreements with other countries, they no longer mention the management over GM organisms in making animal feed,” he added.
However, Lich disagreed, saying the imports are not merely used to make animal feed.
“A million tons of imported soybean will first be liquefied to make around 300,000 tons of cooking oil before the soybean residues are turned into animal feed,” he explained.
Biotech corn approved
Last month two Vietnamese ministries approved a type of genetically modified corn, a move seen as “too late” by industry insiders.
On August 11, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development officially allowed four kinds of genetically modified corn, including MON 89034, to be used as food for humans and animals.
Two weeks later, on August 27, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment granted a safety license to MON 89034, while the three remaining types are under consideration.
MON 89034 corn seeds are developed by Dekalb Vietnam Co Ltd, a unit of the U.S.-based Monsanto Group, the producer of the Agent Orange chemical the U.S. sprayed over Vietnam during the war.
An official from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said the safety certificate was granted following a “strict and scientific assessment and evaluation process.”
Vietnam is the second country in Southeast Asia, after the Philippines, to approve GM corn crops. MON 89034 seeds have previously been licensed in seven countries, including Canada, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Honduras, South Africa, and the U.S.
The Southeast Asian country imported nearly 2.2 million tons of corn, and 1.3 million tons of soybean in 2013 to serve the animal feed sector.