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Vietnamese shrimp exporters will likely lose their grip on the Japanese market due to strict requirements on chemical and antibiotic residues.
Hiroaki Harushima, former CEO of Japan Frozen Foods Inspection Corp, meets with the media at a recent seminar on Japanese regulations and access requirements for Vietnamese seafood exporters., Photo: Thoai Tran
On May 18, 2012 the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare decided to check 30 percent of all imported Vietnamese shrimp shipments after detecting one shipment containing ethoxyquin residues. The normal inspection rate is 5 percent.
The Japanese standard for the residue of ethoxyquin, a quinoline-based antioxidant used as a food preservative, found in exported shrimp is 0.01 parts per million (ppm), while that in Europe is 150 ppm, said Truong Dinh Hoe, general secretary of the Vietnam Association for Seafood Exporters and Processors (VASEP).
But the Japanese standard for ethoxyquin residue in fish is higher, at 1 ppm, said Nguyen Nhu Tiep, head of the National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department (NAFIQAD) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
If Japanese inspectors find two more shipments containing the residues, half of all shrimp shipments to Japan will be inspected. In the worst-case scenario, a ban on importing Vietnamese shrimp may be implemented if further chemical issues are discovered.
On June 21, a Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development task force left for Japan to work on the case.
If necessary, Japanese authorities will launch their own inspections in Vietnam, said Hiroaki Harushima, former CEO of Japan Frozen Foods Inspection Corp, at a recent seminar on Japanese regulations and access requirements for Vietnamese seafood exporters.
“Shrimp export volumes to Japan will drop in the remaining quarters of the year unless local competent agencies work with Japan to revise permissible levels of antibiotic residues in Vietnamese exports,” VASEP Shrimp Committee chair Ho Quoc Luc told the Vietnam Investment Review newspaper.
Local shrimp exporters also face growing competition from Thai and Indian rivals.
Japan can no longer be self-sufficient in seafood production, as the self-sufficient rate dropped from 73 percent in 1965, to 54 percent in 1975. The rate has stood at 40 percent for the last 15 years, said former CEO Harushima.
The current rate in Vietnam is around 158 percent.
Japan, which has a gross domestic product per capita of $34,300, has to spend around $15 billion a year on seafood imports, he said.
Vietnam last year made up about 5 percent of the total seafood import revenue of 1.5 billion yen, of which Vietnamese shrimp accounted for 17 percent of total demand in Japan.
The appreciation of the Japanese yen also boosted seafood imports, which rose 5 percent and 6 percent in volume in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Regarding shrimp export volumes, Vietnam ranked 1st, followed by Indonesia and Thailand.
Vietnamese shrimp exporters raked in $600 million from the Japanese market, some 25.3 percent of their total export revenues, in 2011.
As of May 15, 2012, the export revenues earned from the East Asia market had risen 25.8 percent year on year to $186 million, accounting for 27 percent of total seafood export revenues.
On June 9, 2011 Japan began inspecting 100 percent of Vietnamese shrimp imports for antibiotics after Japanese authorities warned that they would increase the rate from 30 percent if one batch was found with antibiotics exceeding safety levels .
From March 7 to June 8, Japanese authorities only inspected 30 percent of shrimp shipments from Vietnam for enrofloxacin residue, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections in the crustaceans.
However, after one batch was found with enrofloxacin levels higher than safety standards, authorities increased the inspection, according to VASEP.
One year earlier, the same policy was applied by Japanese side for detecting another kind of antibiotics, trifluralin, in Vietnamese shrimps.
On November 11, 2010, after finding three batches of Vietnamese shrimp containing trifluralin, an herbicide that could cause cancer, Japanese authorities decided to increase inspections for the chemical from 30 percent to 100 percent .
The decision followed the discovery of excess levels of pesticide trifluralin, over 1 microgram a kilogram, in three shipments in September and October.
Japan had previously begun inspecting 30 percent of Vietnamese shrimp imports after warning the country about traces of trifluralin early 2010.
There are around 15 local firms exporting seafood to Japan. But many Vietnamese exporters don’t have information about the market and its hygienic and food safety requirements, said Hiroaki.
To prevent more cases relating to residue content being found by Japanese inspectors, local firms should not let fishermen use such preservatives in their products. They should also not let farmers use any banned antibiotic and chemical substances by regulating such requirements in the initial contracts, he said.
“The management should begin at the farming and fishing process,” he said, adding that if fishermen don’t use chemical preservatives and farmers don’t use such chemical substances for cleaning their ponds, there will be no residues found.
Regarding the Japanese regulation on ethoxyquin, which is much stricter than the rest of the world’s, Hiroaki said he had no comment on the issue.
Vietnam can learn a lesson from Chinese farmers supplying vegetables to Japan, he added.
They had been granted quality passes for five years after pesticide residues were found in their produce being sent to Japan.
Chinese quality inspection firms were then set up to meet all Japanese standards for food inspection authorities, and helped their local farmers in adapting the Japanese norms for growing safe vegetables from seeding and growing to harvesting and packaging.
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