Vietnam health ministry probes Tan Hiep Phat drinks company amid boycott
This caricature says that a fly inside a bottle means multiple years in jail.
The questionable quality of the bottled drink products of Tan Hiep Phat Group overshadowed a press conference chaired by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday, prompting the country’s food safety watchdog to reassure the public that they had begun looking into the issue.
Tan Hiep Phat is grabbing national headlines after winning a lawsuit last week that sent one of its customers to jail for seven years for attempting to “blackmail” the company after finding a fly inside a bottle of energy drink made by the firm.
The drink maker, headquartered in the southern province of Binh Duong, is the producer of Number 1 energy drink, Zero Degree green tea, Soya soy milk, and Dr Thanh herbal tea.
Many other cases in which Tan Hiep Phat products were also found to contain strange objects have been reported in recent days, especially in the southern province of Ca Mau, where more than 100 Dr Thanh bottles are reportedly contaminated with ‘dregs.'
“The Ca Mau food safety watchdog has been tasked with carefully examining these products,” Nguyen Thanh Phong, head of the Vietnam Food Administration (VFA), told the Tuesday meeting.
The VFA, managed by the health ministry, is responsible for managing food hygiene, safety, and quality.
The Ca Mau agency is required to examine the lot number and production and expiration dates of the suspicious Dr Thanh bottles, as well as the sales of all Tan Hiep Phat products in the province, and report back to the VFA by the beginning of next week.
“Once enough information is gathered, we will decide on solutions for handling the issue not only in Ca Mau but across the country,” Phong said.
A fly in a bottle leads to seven years in jail
Tan Hiep Phat may have won the fly-in-a-bottle lawsuit, but it is now the victim of a widespread boycott begun on the Internet by those believing the company has treated Minh as a consumer in an unethical way.
Upon being asked to pay VND500 million (US$23,300) to buy the silence of Vo Van Minh, who found a fly inside a Number 1 bottle in 2014, Tan Hiep Phat agreed to pay him but at the same time secretly notified the police of what it called a “blackmail threat.”
Minh was eventually arrested and later imprisoned on charges of “extorting assets” after police officers captured him when he was about to receive money from the company on January 27.
It has quickly become a joke in Vietnam to say that a fly found inside a Tan Hiep Phat bottle means seven years in jail. There is also a caricature that mockingly suggests people try their best to keep it a secret if they do detect another case of a ‘fly-in-a-bottle.'
Five steps to stay safe after detecting a fly in a bottle
The consumer protection association in the southern city of Can Tho, in the meantime, appears to have taken the joke seriously, as it has refused to handle a complaint from a customer, who found ‘dregs’ inside a Dr Thanh bottle.
On Monday, Nguyen Van Ngoan brought the bottle to the association, but was eventually told that he needs a product receipt in order to lodge a complaint.
The association secretary, Le Trung Giang, said a receipt is essential to ensure that any possible complaint against Tan Hiep Phat will not backfire, a response that ignited a wave of protest among the public.
The Can Tho association has been blasted for failing to fulfill its duty of care to consumers, and for being intimidated by a producer.
Following the outrage, the city’s Department of Industry and Trade said on Tuesday that it had tasked the local market watchdog with working with Ngoan to take the bottle for testing.
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