HÀ NỘI – A fruit seller refused to sell her papayas to a potential customer because she realised he was from the same village.
She was worried he would find out the fruit had been sprayed with plant-growth substance, a chemical that improves the size of the fruit and its visual appeal.
The story was told at a confererence on Thursday about contaminated food and the need for more controls to protect public safety.
In recent years, many stories have been told about contaminated food, such as the illegal injection of gel into shrimps to increase their weight or the use of banned yellow chemicals to brighten bamboo shoots, chickens and noodles.
However, the fight against contaminated food seems to be losing. The Ministry of Health said that 149 cases of food poisoning since early last year, had killed 24 people and sent 3,700 to hospital. The number of deaths from substandard food has also doubled since 2016.
Hồ Quang Thái, secretariat of the Việt Nam Anti-counterfeiting Fund, said that a general lack of legal incentives to condemn contaminated food had led to loose penalties.
Thái said in the past six years, only one contamination case had been prosecuted. Most violators were only given administrative penalties. Nguyễn Văn Cường, director of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, said the legal system should tighten the responsibilities of food producers.
He said lack of responsibility encouraged producers and farmers to make short-term decisions to maximise profits, including the use of deadly chemicals to make products last longer and have more visual appeal.
Cường said the management of chemicals in Việt Nam was poor, enabling farmers to easily purchase and use banned substances. He said the origin of every product had to be known to curb contaminated food.
Nguyễn Thuỳ Dương, general manager of SEIKA Mart, said being able to trace the origin of agricultural products and food make consumers happy.
Dương said many consumers hesitated to choose products marked as organic and safe because they had lost trust in the whole process. He said his store forced food producers to meet health regulations by providing certificates and agreeing to sudden inspections.
Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng, vice chairman and general secretary of Việt Nam Standards and Consumer Protection Association, said consumers were willing to pay more to get safe products.
Inspection throughout the food chain, from producing, processing, transporting and distributing products, enabled the origin of products to be known, he added.
Trần Ngọc Thanh, vice chairman of Việt Nam Organic Agriculture Association said that most inspections focused on the final stage of the food chain when products went on sale at markets.
As most food in Việt Nam is produced by small operators, agencies have difficulties in dealing with them all. Thanh said it was necessary to consolidate small businesses to better manage product quality.
At the meeting, representatives of organic-food enterprises suggested that criteria for organic and safe food should be set up with agreement from relevant authorities. This would make is easier for authorised agencies, businesses and consumers to check quality.
Phạm Thanh Hùng, deputy director of Ba Huân Co Ltd said that steps should be taken to prevent contaminated food being sold at market and to create favourable conditions for safe-food enterprises.
Trần Việt Nga, deputy head of the Ministry of Health’s Food Safety and Hygiene Department, said it was crucial to set-up a system to trace the origin of products. – VNS