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Vietnam Halts Rice Exports to US After Shipments Rejected Over Pesticide Levels

Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has placed rice exports to the United States on hold due to increased levels of pesticide residue in its rice shipments.

During the first four months of this year, American officials returned roughly 1,700 tons of Vietnamese rice due to elevated levels of pesticide residue, reports DTI.

As a result, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development issued a warning late last month discouraging both farmers and exporters from using pesticides. Firms whose shipments are sent back on multiple occasions will no longer be permitted to export to the US.

The warning was issued in an effort to head off the possibility of a full US ban on rice imports from Vietnam, reports VnExpress. For the estimated 10 or so Vietnamese firms which export high-quality rice to the US, this news poses a serious problem.

Pham Thai Binh, director of Trung An, an export company, told DTI: “Companies that are compromising rice quality are endangering Vietnam's reputation in the US and the world. If this can't be fixed, Vietnam may lose markets and be banned from exporting.”

According to Binh, both farmers and exporters are to blame for these increased pesticide levels. However the push against pesticides is a recent development: farmers were once encouraged to use fertilizers as a means of ramping up rice production, a representative of the Vietnam Food Association told DTI.

As low-quality, high-yield rice crops grew more quickly, farmers were then forced to increase pesticide use. This rice was exported to China and several African countries, whose customs officials accepted the shipments.

The same is not true, however, in other markets.

“Europe, Japan or the US require high-quality products and will even ban rice that contains pesticides,” Binh told DTI. “These markets require lower amounts of high-quality produce, so the farmers aren't really concerned.”

Today, Vietnam continues to purchase large quantities of these chemicals, many of them from China. In the first three months of 2016, the country imported US$496 million worth of pesticides.

While there is no official plan to stem the use of pesticides among farmers and exporters, some have suggested farming cooperatives, in which land is rented to farmers but the owner maintains full control over the rice production process.

[Photo via Thanh Nien]

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