Deputy Director of the Field Crops Research Institute, Dao The Anh, spoke to Hai Quan (Customs) newspaper about the need to establish an independent organisation to manage food safety.
What do you have to say about the present mechanism for food safety management?
Previously, food safety was managed by many ministries. An interdisciplinary group, including representatives from health, industry and trade plus agricultural ministries, was established for each inspection campaign. The method was ineffective because of the lack of an organisation to take responsibility.
But from now on, food safety will be managed like a chain stretching from the farm to dining table. It is said to be the most advanced risk-management model under the food safety law.
The situation has improved thanks to a joint circular that outlines the tasks of the various ministries on food safety management.
Under a framework set out in the circular, each ministry will manage a part of the food-safety supply chain. The agriculture and rural development ministry will manage food from production to its appearance at wholesale markets. In retail markets, food safety will be managed by the industry and trade ministry. And the health ministry will keep its eye on the state of food appearing in shops and other outlets.
Some people believe food safety management hasn't improved much due to ineffective operations by the various ministries, plus a lack of collaboration between them. Is this correct?
I believe this is correct. In food safety and hygiene management, it is necessary to separate organisations dealing with production from those handling food safety. For example, at the agriculture ministry, the plant-protection department has been the unit promoting production and also the one testing and inspecting for food safety. This might lead to shortcomings in handling food safety, such as pesticides in fruit or vegetables.
The industry and trade ministry hasn't handled its responsibilities well in retail management, especially in encouraging safe production. For many years, the agriculture ministry invested a lot of money to train farmers on how to ensure food safety in production.
However, many consumers still cannot tell clean food from unsafe food in the marketplace. Consumers end up buying unsafe products at cheap prices instead of good food for slightly more. This has forced many farmers to go back to their old ways to reduce production expenses.
Other shortcomings have remained in food management at wet markets. The agriculture ministry have monitored wholesale markets while retail markets are managed by the industry and trade ministry.
There is an opinion that it is necessary to establish an independent organisation on food safety management instead of the present current three ministries. What do you think?
The food safety issue becomes more complicated every day. In developed countries, there was a trend to establish an independent organisation to manage food safety under the government or the health ministry. This can help save capital investment, human resources and ensure transparency.
For me, this would be a good way to handle food-safety management in Viet Nam. We could establish an independent organisation instead of spreading the management task over three ministries.
At present, authorities are only at the edge of food safety management, including detection, handling violations and warning consumers. Do you think the authorities must take action at grass roots level?
Yes, it is true that authorities mainly focus on punishing violations instead of taking prevention measures. To solve the problem, we must control foods at production sources by strengthening quality control at sources of origin.
Localities should work together to stop unqualified agricultural products moving from one province to another. Unsafe products must be stopped at their source.
Do you think consumers should take matters into their own hands rather than wait for authorities to get their act together?
Consumers can boycott a retail system to force the system to provide clean food. We could encourage consumers to raise their voices for safe food in most of urban Viet Nam. — VNS