Authorities in Da Lat are taking samples of Chinese potatoes transported to the Central Highlands city for pesticide and metal residue tests, a plant protection official said Monday.
The tests are applied to Chinese potatoes on sale at green produce wholesale markets or in agricultural business warehouses across Da Lat, the provincial capital of Lam Dong province, Lai The Hung, head of the local Plant Protection Department, said.
Importers and vendors of Chinese potatoes will also have to present receipts proving the products’ origin, he said.
The potatoes that are found to have a pesticide or metal residue amount that exceeds the allowed rate will be destroyed.
Da Lat is Vietnam’s hub of fresh, green and clean agricultural produce, with its products distributed countrywide.
While it may seem illogical for traders in Da Lat to import vegetables, this is what happens in the case of Chinese potatoes, and they do so for a reason.
Chinese potatoes arrive at the vegetable hub in large quantities, where they will be coated with the typical red mud of the Central Highlands to look like they are Da Lat-grown, according to local officials.
Then, they will be transported to Ho Chi Minh City and other provinces to sell under the guise of Da Lat potatoes.
“Chinese potato imports will stop by Da Lat to alter their origin and get the red-mud disguise before arriving in other localities,” Nguyen Van Son, deputy director of the Lam Dong agriculture department, said.
Dishonest traders have developed a complete procedure to turn Chinese potatoes into fake Da Lat produce.
With the foreign potatoes covered in black dirt, they must first be washed clean before wearing the red-mud disguise.
“We legally import the Chinese potatoes, which meet safety standards, and we only coat them to make them look more delicious,” Doan Thi Che, a vegetable wholesaler told VnExpress newspaper on June 19, after having three tons of Chinese potatoes coated red.
Che admitted that selling the fake Da Lat potatoes yields bigger profits, especially when supply of the authentic produce is running low.
Chinese potatoes are imported to Da Lat at only VND3,380 per kilogram. The disguised products will be distributed to small dealerships at VND12,000 per kilogram, and consumers have to buy them for as much as VND30,000 (US$1.41) per kilogram.
While the trick is not something unknown, it is not easy to stop traders from doing so, Son, from the agriculture department, admitted.
“We once witnessed them coating red mud on the Chinese potatoes but we cannot fine them because it is not a banned act and they have legal receipts for the imported produce,” he said.
Son admitted that testing the potatoes for toxic residues “is the only thing we can do.”
Many traders in the Da Lat agricultural produce market have violated their commitment not to cover Chinese potatoes with red mud, Duong Minh Son, head of the market’s management board, said.
Chinese potatoes will arrive in Da Lat in increasing quantities from July to November, Son said.
“In only three days from June 16, 40 tons of potatoes were transported to the market, waiting to be put in disguise,” he added.