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Regulators battle unchartered waters over health supplements

Update: December, 09/2013 - 09:35

At present, nearly 10,000 kinds of supplementary foods are on sale, and 40 per cent of them were imported.— Photo vietnamnet

HA NOI (VNS) — Supplementary foods contribute to disease prevention and promote socio-economic development, however, controlling the food market is increasingly difficult, said health experts.

The so-called "supplementary foods" include vitamin and mineral-enhanced foods which were believed to increase people's resistance and reduce the risk of contracting diseases. They have been used in Viet Nam since 2000.

At present, nearly 10,000 kinds of supplementary foods are on sale, and 40 per cent of them were imported.

Further, nearly 1,800 businesses produce and sell supplementary foods.

During a conference on supplementary food management and use held last Saturday in HCM City, health experts agreed that these foods helped improve the public's health, create jobs for workers and decrease hospital admissions.

However, some enterprises and individuals took advantage of the publicity to raise the products' prices, or sell fake products to earn high profits, said Tran Quang Trung, director of the Ministry of Health's Viet Nam Food Administration (VFA).

In October, the Ha Noi Police discovered more than 100 boxes of supplementary foods displaying the trade mark of a US company, however, in fact, they were produced in the northern province of Hai Duong.

Moreover, health experts showed how supplementary foods were advertised as panaceas for ailments they could not help.

The Law on Food Safety regulated that doctors must not prescribe supplementary foods on their prescriptions, and but the products are advertised on web sites, leaflets, social networks or even through word of mouth, creating difficulties for health experts in managing them.

Deputy Chairman of the Viet Nam Standards and Consumer Rights Protection Association Nguyen Manh Hung said many people complained to the association since the supplementary foods were not as effective as claimed in advertisements and could not cure diseases.

Hung added that supplementary foods could cause allergies, especially when users were sensitive to some types of medicines. Supplementary food allergies can lead to fatalities, he noted.

The HCM City authorities, during the first nine months this year, issued administrative fines of VND140 million (US$6,000) to 18 enterprises for over-advertising supplementary foods.

To strengthen management of supplementary foods, VFA deputy director Nguyen Thanh Phong said that cooperation and close supervision between different agencies, including health, agriculture, industry and trade and advertisement issuing offices, was needed.

Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tien added that the ministry is to issue a circular on supplementary foods, which would have clear regulations on using supplementary foods in prescriptions and advertisements.

In the long term, the ministry is to have regulations about supplementary foods in place, which is based upon ASEAN's decree, she said. — VNS

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