Q mark veggies found 'unsafe'

Consumers now wary of safety guarantee

Consumer rights groups have called for action after chemical contamination was found in samples of vegetables and fruits granted the "Q mark" for safety.

Kingkorn Narintarakul na Ayutthaya, deputy director of the Thai Holistic Health Foundation (BioThai), said Monday that the samples had levels of pesticide contamination higher than products without the Q guarantee. She said this reflected the poor standards of the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS), which authorised the safety logo for the products.

A Q-Mark certificate like this, properly make out, is supposed to be a guarantee of quality. It turns out that it's not.

BioThai called upon the agency to regain public trust by restoring adequate safety standards. Consumers often pay high prices for food with Q logos.

"This is unfair for consumers who expect safety," Ms Kingkon said, adding that customers pay up to 200% more than ordinary prices to purchase what they believe are safe products.

But the latest inspection of vegetables and fruits, jointly conducted by Thailand Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-Pan) and Foundation for Consumers, has called that safety into question.

They found that 87.5% of sampled products with the Q logo were contaminated with pesticides, while 62.5% failed to pass the maximum residue limit, said Thai-Pan coordinator Prokchon Usap. Switzerland-based SGS laboratory examined the food samples, Ms Prokchon said.

The fruit and vegetable samples included Chinese broccoli, cow peas, chili, parsley, basil, oranges, strawberries, apples, guava and watermelons.

Sai Nam Phueng oranges were found to have the highest concentration of pesticides, and 100% of the sampled fruits were below safety standards, followed by guava, apple, Chinese broccoli and basil respectively, the groups reported.

Ms Prokchon also warned that washing the produce with water may not always remove the residue as some are contaminated with systemic pesticides, which are absorbed by plants and remain in their tissues.

Consumers should be wary of buying fruits and vegetables in Bangkok shopping malls, the groups said. Inspectors found more cases of contaminated produce in several big supermarkets in Bangkok than those sold at fresh markets in Bangkok suburbs, as well as in Yasothon and Songkhla, Ms Prokchon said.

"The results of the sampling might contradict what most people believe, that the products in big department stores might be safer and have better standards than local markets," Ms Prokchon said.

The findings have led to talks with representatives from shopping malls and the ACFS. But consumer advocate Phachara Klaokla said the state officials "appeared rather passive" and did not talk about resolving the problem. At that point the consumer groups decided to announce their findings.

ACFS chief Sakchai Sibunsue argued that officials occasionally sample food with the Q mark for inspection and take action if problems arise. In the case of the contaminated Sai Nam Phueng oranges, he believed farmers may have mixed Q-marked oranges with unsafe ones to increase the number sold.