Food-related risks are unavoidable, says health official

Published: 21/03/2010 05:00

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In Vietnam, many people lack food in between-crop period so food hygiene can be seen as less important than food quantity, said an official from the Health Ministry.

A number of bad culinary habits and custom have not changed after hundreds of years and can cause high risk eating, said Nguyen Thanh Phong, vice head of the Ministry of Health’s Agency for Food Hygiene and Safety in an interview with Dan Tri newspaper.

Food hygiene is at alarming level. As a senior official of the Agency for Food Hygiene and Safety, what do you think about this situation?

Food hygiene and safety is a burning social issue and it is also very hot at congress because it directly influences human health and the future race.

There are objective reasons for this situation. In our country, many people still lack food in the between-crop period so the concern for food hygiene is always behind the concern for food quantity.

In addition, many backward habits and customs like eating blood pudding or goi ca (dish made of raw fish and vegetables) have existed for hundreds of years.

However, we should celebrate some achievements in terms of meeting food hygiene standards. For example we exported agricultural and food products to 160 countries and territories, including strict markets like Japan, the USA and the European Union in 2008, earning more than US$11 billion.

A problem that has been discussed for a long time is the overlapping in food hygiene control. It is said that we have up to five ministries to manage food quality but actually, nobody controls food quality. What is your opinion?

In food hygiene and safety, the combination between ministries is clearly clarified in legal documents but we lack staff, funds and sanctions. Many regulations are not suitable.

We are working on the draft Law on Food Safety. I hope that if it is approved by the National Assembly, it will help partly solve the current problems.

Combination between related agencies in food hygiene is not good. What is the responsibility of the Agency for Food Hygiene and Safety as this is the most senior advisory agency in this field?

I’ve said that the responsibility is clear but these agencies need to be equipped with necessary instruments to carry out their responsibility and functions.

But Inter-ministerial working groups do meet every three months to review problems together.

It is special that this year that we have a new steering board for food hygiene and safety, which is directly chaired by a deputy prime minister, instead of the Minister of Health. This board also has representatives of the two biggest cities, Hanoi and HCM City and the media.

When several government agencies control food hygiene together, do you think that they neglect food inspection and instead rely on others?

We have inspected food hygiene in many provinces and cities. The government allocated money to local governments to do this task but in some provinces, they used this source of funding for other jobs.

This fact shows that they don’t understand the significance of the role of local government in ensuring food hygiene.

Some said that it is time to take criminal proceedings against food hygiene violations. Do you agree?

This idea has been raised a long time ago and many cases were brought to the court. According to the National Assembly’s Committee for Science and Technology, 120 cases were brought to court last year. It is important that agencies take tougher penalties on violators.

Do you think that 120 cases are just the tip of the iceberg?

There are many other cases which are punished, using administrative fines. I think that penalties imposed on violators are not soft but it is really important that we take resolute actions against food hygiene-related violations.

VietNamNet/Dan Tri

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