Illicit vegetable smuggling in Singapore

Singapore imports around 1,500 tonnes of fresh vegetables daily from countries like China, Australia and Malaysia. The Singapore Food Agency, the national authority for food safety, does a lot of routine checks to ensure that the vegetables are safe to eat. The agency said illegally imported food products are of unknown sources, pose a food safety risk and will not be allowed for sale.

Some vegetables are sneaked across the border by bypassing the checks at Pasir Panjang, according to a Malaysian driver who used to smuggle vegetables into Singapore “five to 10 years ago”. He said customers here would request him to pick up the vegetables from wholesale markets in Johor and deliver the goods straight to their restaurants or stalls.

The main point of import is the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, where lorries coming into Singapore carrying vegetables must make a pit stop before the produce can be sold to local supermarkets, restaurants or hawker stalls. Some vegetable suppliers from Malaysia are resorting to smuggling their vegetables into Singapore to avoid being fined and their produce being confiscated if they do not meet food safety standards.

These are suppliers that use a lot of pesticides on their vegetables to protect them from pests and to guarantee that they look fresh, according to Malaysian vegetable wholesaler Calvin Chan.

The director at Mr Vege Trading called it an “ironic problem”, as some Singaporeans insist that their vegetables should ‘look nice’. “If they demand nice-looking vegetables, of high quality and visually pleasing, then there must be a lot of pesticides used to achieve all that,” said Chan, who has been in the vegetable export business for over a decade.

In the past five years, the authorities here found more than 200 cases of illegally imported fruits and vegetables during food safety checks.


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