Food safety becomes concern because of lack of enforcement
  • By Thao Nguyen | | November 27, 2013 03:29 PM
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Even though Vietnam has several regulations on food safety and hygiene, food safety has still been a major concern in the country due to a lack of enforcement.


Unsafe food producers may be held accountable

Vietnam now has a relatively sufficient legal framework on food safety and hygiene, as it issued the Law on Food Safety in 2010. It also has four other related laws and 17 circulars guiding the implementation of these rules. However, several experts and managers have said that the implementation of such regulations is still ineffective because unsafe goods, especially unsafe and unlabeled vegetables are still popular in the market.

A recent study by the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agricultural and Rural Development (IPSARD) showed that, by the end of last year, the country had a total of 829,900 hectares of vegetables with an annual output of nearly 14 million tonnes. However, safe vegetable growing areas remain modest, accounting for only between 8% and 8.5% of the total vegetables areas nationwide.

In Hanoi, vegetables deemed safe make up only 14% to15% of the total demand, and only around 4% of vegetables are labeled to be safe.

Pesticides and growth additives remain in use, while food poisoning cases stir up public concerns.

Even though the number of people suffering from, and dying of food poisoning decreased from 7,135 in 2006 to 5,541 in 2012, and from 57 in 2006 to 34 in 2012 respectively; the number of food poisoning cases is not on the decrease, fluctuating at around 160 cases per year during the 2006-2012 period.

A study jointly conducted by IPSARD and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD)'s Plant Protection Department in 2008, showed that pesticide residues on vegetables are still rather high, around 19% above the acceptable levels in leafy vegetables, 10.9% in water spinach and 10% in green beans. The rate was still averaged at 11.5% in 2010.

Several experts and managers blamed the situation on ineffective enforcement.

“We have a lot of regulations on food safety but people still act as if they were under 'the law of the jungle', as unsafe products are still popular in the market,” Doan Xuan Hoa, Deputy Director of the MARD’s Department of Head of the Department of Processing and Trade for Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Products and Salt Production said at a forum on food safety held in Hanoi on November 25.


Consumers urge support for safe and labeled products

Some officials proposed that there should be regulations to stipulate that those who produce unsafe food must be held accountable and even prosecuted in order to create effective deterrent and improve the situation.

“Even though we have a lot of regulations no one has been held accountable, jailed or prosecuted for producing unsafe foods so far. There’s a critical lack of deterrent to change the behaviour of those who choose profit before quality,” said Nguyen Thi Minh Ly, Deputy Director of the Directorate for Standard, Metrology and Quality’s Vietnam Certification Centre.

Another reason may result from the fact that food safety supervision is currently divided into three ministries, including MARD, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Industry and Trade. MARD alone has seven units that are in charge of the issue. As a result there is no one agency to be take responsibility.

“It seems that no one has raised a voice about the necessity about the centralisation of power concerning food safety, as they don’t want to displease one another. We need to change this way of thinking in order to put priority on public health,” said Nguyen Huu Dung, Vice Chairman of Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP).

Many have agreed that it is important to improve awareness in order to help producers understand that unsafe products are unacceptable and as labeling gradually comes into place they will financially lose.

“I think that there should be something akin to a “civil war” in every Vietnamese family to change the situation. This would be like husbands refusing to eat unsafe vegetables bought by wives,” Hoa proposed.

Some say that more attention should be paid to the education system in order to spread knowledge about food safety to both teachers and students, and that there should be regular training sessions about food safety.

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