WWF officials in Vietnam over Pangasius spat

A six-member World Wide Fund for Nature delegation led by its global seafood coordinator Mark Powell began discussions with Vietnamese aquaculture officials Wednesday about the assessment and classification standards used for Vietnamese catfish.

The visitors will explain the technical issues involved in moving Vietnamese tra from the yellow list (products that can be considered for use) to the red list in its 2010-2011 guidance manual for consumers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, and Demark.

A press briefing will be held after the discussion, Pham Anh Tuan, deputy head of the General Directorate of Fisheries, said.

The WWF delegation will then set off for a field study of catfish farming and processing in Can Tho, the country’s major catfish farming hub, he added.

The WWF move has raised the ire of tra farmers and seafood agencies in Vietnam who panned it for lacking a scientific foundation.

The fisheries industry association Monday demanded an apology from the WWF for labeling Vietnamese traas harmful.

“We have looked over WWF’s 19 criteria carefully and found they are inaccurate and lack evidence,” Nguyen Viet Thang, the chairman of Vietnam Fisheries Association said.

“These assessments focus solely on certain facts like the impacts of breeding tra on the environment.”

The Foreign Ministry had demanded last week that WWF members in a number of European countries remove Vietnamese tra catfish from their red list.

“It is regretful that members of WWF in several European countries have made assessments that are inaccurate, lack scientific foundation, and are at odds with the realities of Vietnam’s tra fish,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said at a press briefing in Hanoi Thursday.

This will cause great losses to Vietnamese fish farmers and seafood processors as well as European consumers and not benefit the ongoing development of economic and trade relations between Vietnam and European nations, she warned.

Vietnam has begun to strictly regulate the seafood processing industry and widely applies the highest international standards for aquaculture, ensuring food hygiene and safety and environmental protection are on a par with international standards, she added.

WWF Vietnam on the same day reiterated in a press release that it is not involved in the assessment but has a responsibility to help resolve the problem.

What Vietnam has to say

Foreign experts and Vietnamese have rejected WWF’s contention that Vietnamese catfish is unsafe and the industry is harmful to the environment.

Tests by international corporations have always found Vietnamese catfish safe, Marc Campet of the Binh Duong-based French animal feed maker Guyomarch Vietnam Company Limited said.

He was surprised by the WWF claim since catfish products from Vietnam are thoroughly checked in labs before they enter the EU and have never encountered any problems before.

Dr Flavico Corsin, an aquaculture expert based in Vietnam, said he was surprised to see Vietnamese catfish in the WWF’s red list of harmful products. He said the WWF’s survey, assessment, and study method were all faulty.

Its testing and assessment methods contained errors since the 19 questionnaires in the survey did not properly address the issue, he said, adding the people doing the surveys did not have adequate knowledge of how the catfish are farmed.

The Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) too said the method of study and information used by the WWF were not accurate.

Nguyen Huu Dung, VASEP deputy president, said the WWF report was a secondary research and did not rely on field studies.

One of the reasons the WWF gave for putting Vietnamese catfish in its red list is that farming the fish could degrade the Mekong River. However, Campet, a French technician with 15 years’ experience in inspecting Mekong catfish, rejected this explanation saying since the fish eat food from non-meat origins that do not harm the water.

Compared to other fish sold in the EU, catfish costs four or five times less but is nutritious, Philippe Serene, a French catfish food supplier, said.



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