As the lunar new year draws near, the Viet Nam Food Administration (VFA) is working to ensure food safety during the festival, says VFA director Nguyen Thanh Phong.
How do you assess the state of food safety in our country at present?
I have to concede that food safety has become a concern for many people. It is reported that violations of food safety law are increasing rapidly, with the problems becoming more diverse. Many food producers have been caught breaking the law, from failing to ensure sufficient levels of hygiene, to using prohibited additives during manufacture. Additionally, the cross border trade of animals' internal organs without official certification of origin has exacerbated the situation.
More seriously still, the labelling of Chinese food with Vietnamese trade marks has eroded consumer confidence.
As the Lunar New Year festival draws near, food safety is becoming more of an issue as food demand is increasing, particularly for fresh meat and vegetables. No doubt, hard times are ahead. However, we will do our very best to increase our market watch.
Do you think that food safety in our country has reached an alarming level? If so, why?
Yes, food safety has reached an alarming level already. In addition to some of the causes I have mentioned above, I would like to say that the existing "food subsistence" livestock production practised by farmers is a factor we can attribute to low food safety. For them, slaughter houses are unnecessary. In our country, up to 80 per cent of food processing enterprises and manufacturers are small scale and use obsolete equipment.
What has caused us a particular headache is the low awareness of business people, particularly caterers, and the eating habits of our people. Producers are often greedy and value making a profit rather than caring about the quality offered to consumers.
Above all, I have to admit that we from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development have not performed our assigned duties as food safety referees to the expected levels.
What does the VFA plan to do to improve food safety in the run up to the festival and for the future?
During this month, the Ministry of Health will send many inspection teams to check the quality of commodities, including confectioneries, fruit, alcohol and meat, among others. We will focus our inspections at markets, super-markets and the main supplying food chains in big cities.
During these missions, if we uncover any violations the perpetrators will be duly penalised in alignment with the law. In addition, we will continue to improve the quality of food safety inspection laboratories in all 63 cities and provinces nation-wide.
Of course, we promise to fully disclose information for both manufacturers and consumers so that everyone knows what is going on and are prepared for the tougher measures against violators.
It is our long-term plan to build another 16 agro-food chains which will follow the good agriculture practice model (GAP). 11 of these will focus on livestock production and five on crop production. — VNS