Police came to an agricultural trading centre at Bu Gia Map District's Da Kia Commue for a sudden check on March 4.
Two workers were found mixing and cooking different kinds of flour in two large pots at a pepper trading centre in Binh Phuoc Province on March 4. Photo by nguoilaodong
These grains would then be dried and have better shape and colour and weigh more.
The pepper grains are dried after being mixed with different substances. Photo by nguoilaodong
"We produce about 360 kilos of perfect pepper from 300 kilos of lower quality pepper grains every day. And we’re earning a profit of VND900,000 (USD40) on each 100 kilos," the report said.
Toan said that she bought the red-colour powder from a shop in HCM City but did not know about its name or ingredients.
"The shop owner in HCM City told me that this substance was often used in food processing and would cause no harm to people's health and I believe in her,” Toan explained.
The centre's owner also added that her pepper is being distributed at local markets.
After the check, police seized 500 kilos of yellow-colour powder, 15 kilos of white-colour powder and a box of red-colour powder for testing.
Over 1.122 tonnes of processed pepper were also seized for further investigation.
This poses another problem for Vietnamese pepper, in addition to its problems with pesticides.
A report released last month by the Vietnam Pepper Association (VPA) showed that Vietnamese pepper will face stricter scrutiny this year following excessive use of agricultural pesticides, especially in the EU and US markets, according to the Vietnam News Newspaper.
The VPA report identifies quality control in pepper production and processing as a major problem, which becomes more difficult to solve when a mind-set of favouring quantity over quality persists among farmers and traders.
A majority of farmers use unnecessary amounts of fertilisers and pesticides, weakening natural resistance and requiring even higher doses of the chemicals for subsequent crops, resulting in diminishing returns.
The EU and the US have been major buyers of Vietnamese pepper at about 40,000 tonnes a year each, 46 per cent of total annual pepper exports.
According to VPA, pepper export to these two markets will face challenges this year as they set to issue new rules on the quality of imported agricultural produce, including pepper from Vietnam.