VietNamNet Bridge – The biggest sellers of fish and seafood in Japan have decided to greatly reduce the number of antibiotic-treated marine products they purchase from Vietnam, a move that's expected to a deliver a huge financial blow to the aquaculture industry.


Le Van Quang, president and CEO of Minh Phu Seafood Corporation, said the situation has given him one too many ‘headaches’ as foreign importers have told him straight up they don’t want what he is peddling.

“My customers in Japan are telling me they prefer shrimp from Indonesia and the Philippines,” said Mr Quang.

“They would prefer to buy their seafood due to concerns of overuse and abuse of antibiotics by Vietnamese farmers and they are more than willing to pay an extra premium of US$2.5-US$3 per kilo to get a quality product.”

“Fish farming in Vietnam has gained an increasingly bad reputation with both Japanese and EU customers saying the fish and seafood are fatty, dyed, polluting and stuffed with antibiotics,” said Mr Quang.

“The fundamental problem is that our waters here are filthy,” said Mr Quang. “There are simply too many aquaculture farms in Vietnam. They’re all discharging water here, fouling up other farms.”

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues, posing health threats to consumers.

“It contributes to an increase in superbugs, or microorganisms that have grown resistant to antibiotics, posing a severe threat to human health and as well negatively affecting the taste,” said Mr Quang.

Environmental degradation, in other words, has become a food safety problem, said Mr Quang, with mounting scientific evidence that consuming contaminated fish and seafood leads to higher rates of cancer and liver disease as well as numerous other afflictions.

In recent years, both Japan and the EU have imposed temporary bans on Vietnamese fish and seafood because of illegal drug residues. The US has even gone so far as to block imports of several types of fish after inspectors detected traces of illegal drugs linked to cancer.

Threat of shutdown and prison

“The solution may be that the Vietnam government needs to force shut down and liquidation of seafood companies that violate the law and fail to pass Japanese and EU seafood inspections for illegal veterinary drugs,” said Mr Quang.

“For far too many years,” said Mr Quang, “we’ve blindly emphasized economic growth over quality and sustainability. The single-minded pursuit has been GDP, and now we can see that the water turns dirty and our seafood in turn gets dangerous.”

“Antibiotic problems are plaguing the fish and seafood segment of agriculture and are clearly a bad omen for the industry.”

“Seafood producers themselves exacerbate the problem,” said Mr Quang.

Large aquaculture farms concentrate fish waste, pesticides and veterinary drugs in their ponds and discharge the contaminated water into rivers, streams and coastal areas, often with no treatment.

He said this in turn necessitates increased levels of antibiotics, which just aggravates the problem.

Aquaculture has led to seafood from fish farms producing more than from the sea in Vietnam, said Mr Quang, and it has also helped to feed an increasingly prosperous population, a longstanding challenge.

But now, serious environmental problems have begun to emerge compounded by increased manufacturing plants moving into the country, which has resulted in waters that are unfit for fish farming, swimming or any contact whatsoever with the human body.

As water quality declines, farmers who often fill their ponds with too much seafood are fighting off disease and calm stressed fish with an array of powerful, and most often illegal, antibiotics and pesticides.

Mr Quang said a possible solution to the water woes is to move aquaculture well offshore and utilize newer technology that allows for deep-water fish cages served by automatic feeding machines.

An alternative is long prison terms for those who violate the laws on the use of antibiotics governing fish and seafood trade.

According to Penal Law 2015, the use of antibiotics or chemicals in aquaculture is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of US$9,000.

Farmers who intentionally violate the law could be subjected to a 20-year sentence and fines of US$45,000.

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