A positive step in food safety management?

Nguyen Thanh Phong, director general of the Department of Food Safety under the Ministry of Health, talks to the newspaper Kinh te & Do thi about a controversial change in food safety management. Now, many enterprises will be responsible for certifying the safety of their own products.

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Nguyen Thanh Phong. — Photo vfa,gov.vn

Many people have considered Decree 15/2018/ND_CP a “revolution” in food safety management. Do you agree?

The Decree 15/2018/ND_CP has given further detail on a number of articles in the revised Law on Food Safety which came into force last February. It also replaces Decree No. 38/2012.

The most salient new point contained in Decree 15 is to cut down a number of requirements contained in No 38, which was issued in 2012. The salient point in the new Decree is to provide a favourable corridor and conditions for the enterprises to operate with the most important objective of protecting the people’s health.

Under Decree 15, the enterprises will make public their products and take their own responsibility for the safety of their products. However, for certain products, under the law, enterprises must submit quality reports to the Ministry of Health and the Department of Health.

For what products do the enterprises have to submit reports to the Ministry of Health or Department of Health?

All health supplement foods or combined food additives with new usage formulas are required to register with the Department of Food Safety from the Ministry of Health. However, food for children under 36 months is not subjected to the advertisement prohibition as written in Article 7 of the Law on Advertisement.

According to the Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM), up to 95 per cent of food products now don’t require any administrative procedures. That means only 5 per cent of the products have to declare with functional agencies. But such a procedure is very simple, as it can be done on line.

Until now, many products have been subjected to the management of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Will such management cease to happen under the new Decree?

Under the Decree on Food Safety, the three ministries have to oversee the issue of food safety of the food items which are subjected to their State assignment. Under the new Decree, if ingredients of a product fall under the oversight of more than one ministry, the Ministry that oversees the manufacturer will take the responsibility to oversee the product safety. This is a new salient point in the Decree.

Under the new Decree, the Provincial/City Committee will take responsibility for the issue of food safety in their locality.

Many people have expressed deep concern about the shifting of food safety quality from a government agency to the manufacturing enterprises. What’s your point of view on that?

I should say that the Decree has eased regulations for enterprises in their production, but it does not mean that the Government doesn’t monitor what the enterprises do. In other words, Decree 15 puts a heavy burden on the enterprises’ responsibility. Though the enterprises have the right to declare the quality of their products, they are still subjected to government agencies’ post-checks. If any law encroachments are detected, the enterprises will be heavily fined. In a serious case, the enterprise will be banned from production.

Will you please talk a bit in detail about the work of post checks?

I should say that until now, in some localities, inspection and supervision activities on food safety are mainly done by the Ministry of Health. As we all know food safety management requires the involvement of local government – particularly from the local Food Safety Agency. If any case of food safety encroachment is detected, due sanction should be imposed immediately. This is the only and proper way for us to protect the people’s health.

Food poisoning has become a concern for many consumers. Do you think if the enterprises are given the right to declare the quality of their products, that will make the consumers more worry about the problem of food safety?

I should say in the Decree this time, food safety has been highlighted. It states clearly that the producers can only use certified food additives by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health for human beings in their products. Furthermore food additives must be written in the product labels.

What’s more important is that the final product must not do any harm to the users and specific usage instructions should be included in the product’s label.— VNS

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