Vietnam dog slaughterhouses shut on health fears

A dog slaughterhouse is seen in Hanoi

A dog slaughterhouse is seen in Hanoi

May 18, 2009

HANOI (AFP) — Authorities in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi have temporarily closed at least a dozen dog slaughterhouses on fears their unclean conditions may help spread cholera bacteria to people, an official said Monday.

Dog meat is a popular dish in Vietnam.

It was unclear when the slaughterhouses in Hanoi’s suburban Duong Noi would be allowed to resume operations, local official Nguyen Thi Thuc told AFP, without providing more details.

The health ministry said on its website that cholera bacteria had been found in the slaughterhouses.

Cholera is spread through unsafe food.

Eight northern cities and provinces are presently hit by outbreaks of acute diarrhoea, including hundreds of cases of suspected cholera, officials and press reports said.

Communist Vietnam has a longstanding problem with food safety and hygiene.

In March and April last year the country battled cholera outbreaks which hit Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and 16 other provinces. More than 100 people were infected but no fatalities were reported.

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection transmitted through water or food contaminated with the bacteria vibrio cholera. It causes diarrhoea and dehydration and can lead to kidney failure and death if untreated.

Vietnam, Cambodia brace for Mekong floods, crops safe

HANOI, Aug 19 (Reuters) – Rising Mekong floods upstream may cause landslides and deep inundation in Cambodia and southern Vietnam but the seasonal floodwater would also bring farmers good crops of rice and fish, officials said on Tuesday.

The Vietnamese government said rescue forces must be ready to move people from dangerous areas in southern Vietnam, where the Mekong river reaches the South China Sea after travelling more than 4,000 km (2,500 miles) from Tibet through Laos and Cambodia.

Four people have been killed in flooding and landslides in Laos, where the Mekong river has hit its highest level in at least 100 years after several months of unusually heavy rain (For a related story, please double click on [IDnSP192460]).

Cambodia has alerted villagers of rising waters and the authorities have prepared 4,000 boats and life-jackets for the vulnerable areas in the eastern provinces of Kampong Cham and Kratie, the national disaster management committee said.

The Mekong River Commission said the river from northern Thailand to central Cambodia was higher than it was in 2000, when the worst floods in four decades struck southern Vietnam.

“Floods in the Cuu Long River Delta happen every year, so people are used to taking preventive measures for crops and life,” Le Van Banh, director of the Mekong Delta-based Rice Institute, told Reuters by telephone from Can Tho city.

“In the past floods caused problem to transportation and it was hard for children to come to school, but in recent years Vietnam has built protective dykes and residential areas above the flood-peaking level,” he said.


About 20 percent of Vietnam’s 86.5 million people live in the Cuu Long River Delta, the Vietnamese name for the Mekong river, which produces more than half of the country’s paddy output but supplies more than 90 percent of its commercial rice.

Rice growers say they will get extra income from fishing when flooding is high and after they end the summer rice harvest. Flood waters also clean up alum, pests and rats from fields while bringing more fertile soil.

“Since the floods are to wash away alum, we expect the yield of the next winter-spring rice crop to be good, at least on par with this year,” Banh said.

The winter-spring crop, the Delta’s top yielding, produced 10 million tonnes of paddy in April with a yield of 6.2 tonnes per hectare, prompting the government to raise Vietnam’s annual rice exports by 13 percent from earlier targets [nSP283104].


Seasonal floods appeared slowly in the Delta in July, a month earlier than usual. But this week flood waters are rising faster from heavy rains upstream two weeks ago, including the downpours that caused flash floods in northern Vietnam.

“Floods are forecast to rise above the average level in many years,” said Vo Thanh, a meteorologist in An Giang, one of the Mekong Delta’s main rice growing provinces.

Waters are expected to rise to 3.5 metres (12 feet) above sea level at Tan Chau gauging station on Friday, or 0.1 metre below the Alarm Level Two, which indicates inundation and danger of river bank and dyke erosion but towns are still protected.

In 2000, the Delta experienced the worst floods in four decades as waters rose to more than 5 metres, killing nearly 500 people, more than 300 of them children.

Since then the government has launched a campaign to protect life and property, having built 82,000 new homes, relocated 110,000 families or 80 percent of those living in dangerous areas, and opened swimming class for children and teachers.

However, about 30,000 families living near rivers are still facing risk of landslides, according to provincial figures. (Additional reporting by Ek Madra in PHNOM PENH; Editing by Paul Tait)

VIETNAM: Ban on street vendors threatens livelihoods

Photo: Martha Ann Overland/IRIN
A bicycle vendor carries dozens of baskets for sale through the streets of Hanoi

HANOI, 23 June 2008 (IRIN) – For the past decade, Nguyen Thi Lan has risen at 3am to boil up a pot of sticky rice. Before the sun comes up, she packs it into a bamboo basket, secures it to her bicycle and begins the long ride to Hanoi. In the city, she serves up scoops of rice sprinkled with dried pork, peanuts and sesame seeds and on a good day she will return home with $3.50.

Lan has no choice but to do this work ever since most of her family’s rice paddies were “reclaimed” by local officials, she says, and sold to developers. Far from grumbling about the long hours and meagre pay, Lan says the money has allowed her to send her children to school and ensure they do not go hungry.

But from 1 July, Lan will no longer be able to sell her packets of sticky rice in the city because street vendors will be banned from commercial streets. Lan says her family will starve.

“We will all go hungry,” Lan says. “We are poor people. We have no land. We are dependent upon the street.”

Mobile vendors have been an integral part of Hanoi’s street life for centuries. Women in conical straw hats, balancing twin baskets suspended from bamboo poles, are one of the city’s most enduring images.

Selling goods from bamboo baskets and bicycles also provides income to villagers with little education and few other means of support. According to the Asian Development Bank project, Making Markets Work Better for the Poor, an estimated 5,000 mobile vendors – mostly women – operate in the city centre. Like Lan, most are the family’s main breadwinners.

Photo: Martha Ann Overland/IRIN
These women will be banned from Hanoi’s streets as of 1 July 2008

Vendors also provide a service. In a country that has yet to develop a supermarket culture, mobile vendors provide city dwellers with everything from cheap fruit and vegetables to bras and live tropical fish.

To the People’s Committee of Hanoi, however, they are a menace. As the capital modernises, cars, motorbikes, rickshaws and street vendors all try to squeeze through the Old Quarter’s narrow lanes. With shop wares spilling on to the sidewalks and instant hairdressers and bike repairmen to dodge, walking down Hanoi’s congested streets is not for the faint-hearted.

The ban is designed to make the city more habitable, says an official from the Hanoi Trade Management Division, who asked not to be named. “It is to beautify the city,” he said, referring to Decision 02, which bans mobile vendors from 62 streets. “Hawkers are a major reason for traffic problems. We believe that once the ban is enforced it will help improve urban sanitation, food hygiene and ease congestion.”

On the run

Hanoi has no programmes to help mobile vendors find alternative employment. No NGO has taken up their case. These traders do not belong to a labour union. Because they are literally on the run all the time, they are notoriously difficult to organise.

“What will we live on?” asks Ng Thi Hoa, pausing nervously before setting down her baskets. If she stops too long, police can give her a Green Ticket, which varies from 20,000 (US$1.15) to 50,000 dong (US$2.90) depending on the infraction and is supposed to go to a street cleaning and waste removal fund.

Photo: Martha Ann Overland/IRIN
Vegetable sellers will no longer be allowed to ply Hanoi’s busiest streets beginning 1 July

Hoa sells bundles of incense sticks, earning about 7 US cents for every pack she sells. Out of the $2 or $3 she earns, she has to pay 70 cents for a place to sleep – a mattress on a floor in a room shared with other market women. Food and shelter take up half her earnings, the rest goes to her children in her village. “The entire family depends upon the sale of these ancestral offerings,” Hoa says.

But not everyone sees the ban as spelling the vendors’ demise. The status of Hanoi’s street hawkers is very murky, says Paule Moustier, a food marketing researcher with CIRAD, the French institute that studies agriculture in Asia. One regulation calls it illegal and another one taxes it with the Green Ticket.

“The new ban essentially recognises that they can carry out activities but in restricted areas,” says Moustier. By establishing that they are legitimate, it would be easier to organise street vendors and minimise harassment from officials, Moustier argues.

For now, Hoa’s plan is to outrun the police when the ban goes into effect, making working conditions even more desperate. But with all her family’s land gone and two children back home, a life on the run, she says, is better than starvation.

Food poisoning hospitalises hundreds in Vietnam

Hundreds of workers from a footwear factory in Vietnam have been hospitalised after showing symptoms of food poisoning, an employee of the firm and state media said.

A staff member from the Taiwanese-owned VMC Hoang Gia factory in southern Vietnam said “several hundred” had been hospitalised, but the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper said the number was “almost 1,000”.

“Most of them became dizzy and several others suffered from stomach ache and headache after having dinner of rice with tofu, cabbage and fish on Monday,” in the factory canteen, the staff member said.

Many workers had been discharged but others were still in local hospitals for treatment, the staff member said, asking not to be named.

Provincial health officials in Tay Ninh, where the factory is located, are investigating the case, the employee added.

Food poisoning outbreaks, especially in factory canteens, have become more common in Vietnam with bad hygiene often blamed as the key culprit.


Vietnam’s inflation hits 25.2 percent, highest in a decade, as food, construction costs soar

HANOI, Vietnam: Surging food and construction costs drove Vietnam’s inflation rate to 25.2 percent in May, the highest in more than a decade, the government said Tuesday.

Despite authorities’ efforts to control inflation, including interest rate hikes, consumer prices were 4 percentage points higher than last month, according to the Government Statistics Office.

Vietnam’s inflation rate is among the highest in Asia, and higher food prices in particular are hurting the country’s poor.

Overall food costs were up 42.4 percent from a year ago, driven by a 67.8 percent jump in the price of grain, including rice, the staple food. Housing and construction materials rose 22.9 percent over last year.

Analysts say Vietnam’s surging inflation is being driven by both domestic and global forces, including soaring fuel and food costs. Rapid economic growth and looser lending policies in recent years, which has spurred investment, also have contributed.

The communist government has made fighting inflation its top priority. The central bank raised by interest rates 3 percentage points to restrain borrowing and encourage saving.

In the past few months, the government has also postponed public investment projects and ordered state agencies to cut spending by at least 10 percent.

The impact of these policy changes should be felt in the second-half of the year, said Jonathan Pincus, chief economist of the United Nations Development Program in Hanoi.

“The economy is still healthy, with exports and foreign direct investment soaring,” he said.

Vietnam’s exports were up 27 percent in May from a year ago, and foreign investment pledges reached US$15.3 billion in the first five months of this year, more than double the same period last year.

Still, authorities foresee slower growth ahead. Earlier this month, Vietnam slashed its annual growth target to 7 percent from 8.5 percent.

Story Flavours of Vietnam (+recipe)

Chef Tony Tan is a man of the world. Literally. Of Chinese descent, born in Malaysia, he moved to Australia 30 years ago as a student, and never left. Except to travel the world.

Now running his cook school, Tan is a respected expert in Asian cuisine, including Chinese, Nonya, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Malaysian. His school is ranked in the top 20 internationally by London’s Financial Times.

A self-confessed “food nut,” Tan also leads culinary tours of the world, including, this year, jaunts to China and Spain. Next year he will lead a tour to Vietnam, and it was on his radar at Savour New Zealand, where he was teaching a master class in Vietnamese cuisine.

It is a country he loves, and visits at least once a year.

“It is quite easy to fall in love with Vietnam,” says Tan, eager as a schoolboy. “It has a thousand-year-old culinary history.”

He whips out his cellphone to show images of the dishes he has been working on in the kitchens of the Langham Hotel.

There is the muc nhoi thit (stuffed squid or calamari) and ca ri ga (chicken curry). “The two dishes are distinctly different from each other,” says Tan.

The stuffed squid, from the north, is beautifully stuffed with pork, mushrooms and herbs, and cut into delicate slices and served with nuoc cham, a spicy dipping sauce.

The chicken curry, a southern dish, is more rustic and robust, with chunks of potato, chilli and coconut milk, served with a handful of coriander or Thai basil.

“Vietnamese is known for being really light and delicate,” says Tan. “But there is a big difference between the north and the south. The north is much more refined than the south. The north and central areas have an imperial influence, but further south, the food is much raunchier. It is big and tropical, and they go big on flavour.”

The people from north and south Vietnam have a friendly rivalry, not dissimilar to the two main islands of New Zealand. “My friend, who is from up north and very refined, said to me, ‘those people from the south are so vulgar! Their soups are so big!”‘ Flavours are a mix of sweet and sour, with lime, lemon grass, fish sauce, mint and Thai basil the key ingredients.

There are lots of vegetables, with an emphasis on freshness, and side dishes of fresh herbs and dipping sauces. “You get an explosion of flavour,” says Tan. The country is influenced by China to the north, and by its history of French colonisation, as well as neighbours Cambodia and Laos to the west.

The French influence is seen with Tan’s curry, served with a baguette as an alternative to rice and noodles. Like New Zealand, Australia has changed markedly in the last few decades, Tan says. “When I first came out to Australia 30 years ago, there was no coriander. It is amazing how it has changed. Now I can buy fresh pandan leaves at the Victoria Market.”

ca ri ga (chicken curry) Main course, serves four.

“Generally, Vietnamese curries are quite different in terms of their preparation compared to Thai, Malaysian and Indian curries,” says chef Tony Tan. “Although they share some similarities with their neighbours, the Thais and Khmers, these curries are relatively milder and more watery.

However, the following Cham-influenced recipe debunks all I’ve mentioned because it is thick, rich and heady, with the aroma of lemongrass. Serve it with a fresh crusty baguette, chopped coriander or Thai basil, chillies and a salt-pepper-lime dip and it will take you to the markets of Vietnam.”


50g lemongrass, finely sliced
2cm fresh ginger, about 20g peeled and crushed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
20g curry powder

750g free range boneless chicken, preferably thigh, cut into small pieces
Oil for deep-frying
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, inner bruised
20g curry powder mixed with 1 Tbsp water
1 long red chilli, deseeded and minced
200 ml coconut milk
400ml Vietnamese chicken stock*
20g sugar
2 tsp or about 10g of sea salt, to taste
1 tsp white pepper
250g potato or sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes

To serve:
Handful of coriander or Thai basil
Freshly sliced chilli
Fresh baguette


In a food processor, process lemongrass to a fine powder. Add the ginger, garlic and curry powder and process until the mixture forms a paste. Transfer mixture to a bowl and add the chicken. Mix well and marinate for two hours.
In a medium saucepan, deep-fry the potato pieces in hot oil until lightly browned and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm.
Pour off all but two tablespoons of the oil. Over a medium heat, fry the garlic, onion and lemongrass until fragrant, about three minutes. Add curry powder and chill. Continue to sauté for another three minutes or until the spices are fragrant. Add the chicken and cook until it is opaque, about four or five minutes.
Add the coconut milk, chicken stock and season with salt, pepper and sugar. Lower the heat to simmer the chicken, uncovered, for about 15-20 minutes or until it is tender and the sauce is thick.
Check seasoning and add the potato before serving. Place curry in a serving bowl and offer baguette and garnishes on the side. Of course, it is also great with rice.

Muoi Tieu Chanh or Salt, Pepper and Lime Dip
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
40ml fresh lime juice
Combine the salt, pepper and lime in a small dish. Stir well and use as required.

*Note: Vietnamese chicken stock is made with cloves of garlic, spring onions or onion and ginger. Vietnamese curry powders tend to be more aromatic with hints of star anise and one of the most popular is Vianc Indian Chef curry powder. Madras or Malaysian curry powders are acceptable substitutes.

Tony Tan’s chicken curry was served with a glass of Montana Terroir Series Riverpoint Gisborne Gewürztraminer 2007.

Vietnam may limit future rice exports

HANOI — Vietnam may permanently reduce rice exports by 2010 and beyond to ensure food security for its growing population, state media reports and government officials said on Monday.

Outward shipments from the world’s second largest rice exporter could be capped at 4.3 million tons a year by 2015 and 3.8 million tons by 2020, according to a report in the state-run Vietnam News daily.

Cutting overseas sales of the staple crop would balance the effects of “the growing population and bad crops caused by natural disasters, insects and inclement weather,” the daily reported, citing unnamed officials.

Government experts stressed that the plan was currently under consideration by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and would require the approval of the government leadership of the communist country.

“It’s just an idea for a long-term rice export policy until 2020,” said Phung Thi Kim Thoa, a senior ministry official in charge of rice exports, when asked to comment on the state media report.

“We are working on a project which would have to be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and then by the prime minister. We are collecting opinions from concerned ministries on this matter.”

Global food prices have surged this year, fuelling supply fears and inflation in countries including Vietnam.

Vietnam has capped 2008 national rice exports at 3.5-4 million tons, down from a previous target of 4.5 million tons, and ordered a halt to the signing of new export contracts until the end of June.

Experts in Vietnam have warned that the country’s arable lands are shrinking fast while the population, now estimated at 86 million, has grown rapidly since the end of the war in 1975 triggered a baby boom.

“Vietnam has lost a lot of arable land to urbanization and industrialization,” said economist Le Dang Doanh, a veteran government advisor.

“There are too many industrial parks, projects, golf courses, and so on. The problem is now how to ensure food security as demographic pressures, the increase of the population, are still increasing.”

World grain prices have sky-rocketed this year, a trend blamed on higher energy and fertilizer costs, greater global demand, droughts, the loss of farmland to biofuel plantations, industry and cities, and price speculation.