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Public input vital for legislation

Update: August, 30/2012 - 09:08

by Hong Minh

Those who worry about food safety and hygiene must have been overjoyed when they first looked at two recent circulars from the agriculture ministry.

However, on closer examination these faces would have fallen to when they contemplated the reality of turning their suggestions into reality.

The ministry obviously had good intentions when issuing Circular 33 on trading fresh meat and edible animal by-products – and Circular 34 on the conditions for collecting, preserving and trading eggs. The circulars urge all those involved in meat and poultry trading to switch to modern techniques to raise, slaughter and offer for sale farm animals and poultry.

This, of course, means using advanced technology at all stages of production and preparation so that all the meat is safe and clean. But, again, many may wonder just how practical the new rules are.

For example, how many butchers and all others involved in raising, slaughtering and transporting meat and its by-products can meet a requirement for it to be offered for sale within eight hours of slaughtering if it is kept at room temperatures? And how many can observe the other rule that if it is offered for sale for up to 72 hours, it must be kept at zero to five C degrees?

How many enterprises and households collecting poultry eggs have a separate zone for preservation, wastewater treatment systems and another separate zone for cleaning and pasteurising eggs with chemicals, ozone and ultraviolet rays? Never happen!

One can only guess that the compilers of the circulars and those who signed them live in a slightly different world. For example, can they answer roughly how many meat retailers and poultry farmers and sellers nationwide would have to stop business once the circulars take effect?

This is not the first time when a new legal document has seemed so impractical. Another instance includes the Ministry of Public Security' recent regulation on demanding that identity cards contain information about holder's parents. People may also remember the Ministry of Health's regulation several years ago that drivers had to conform to certain height, weight and chest sizes to be eligible for a licence. Some short people cried when they found they were too short!

Fortunately, public protestations can have an effect. Most of the seriously flawed new regulations were postponed for adjustment after hostile objections.

The department set up to check legal documents under Ministry of Justice reported that in the last month alone, three hastily issued legal documents were withdrawn or postponed for re-adjustment.

The main reason for such blunders appears to be that they are issued without any regard for public comment or consultation. Many documents, which could have large-scale impacts, have been drafted –and approved – without any social surveys or polls being held. They suddenly appear, like flickering spotlights, making everyone confused.

Apart from anything else, it is a huge waste of human resources, time and facilities to compile and issue unworkable documents, some of them obviously written by someone in an air-conditioned room after reading the latest regulations from other countries.

And is it wise to issue laws that most people treat as a joke? It's time for policy makers to make sure that legal documents are feasible. To do this, it is necessary to involve the public at all stages. — VNS

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