Authorities are checking food safety (Photo: tienphong.vn)

HCM City (VNA) - State management of food safety and hygiene should be re-organised as it remains ineffective in monitoring unsafe food sold in the market, experts have said. 

The suggestion was made at a food-safety policy forum that ended in Ho Chi Minh City on September 22 held by the Office of the National Assembly. 

Under the 2010 Food Safety Law, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development are all responsible for management of food safety and hygiene. 

“Overlapping management is the consequence of this,” said Nguyen Tu Cuong, former head of the National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department. 

Cuong said that consumers were at a great disadvantage because food safety was still not ensured. 

Tran Quang Trung, former head of the Vietnam Food Administration, said that an independent agency from the central to grassroots level should be set up to improve management. 

HCM City is planning to pilot this kind of agency, which should be expanded to other locailties, he said. 

He said the law and other regulations on food safety were in conflict with each other, and did not even include the same standards set by many other countries. 

Nguyen Thanh Phong, head of the Vietnam Food Administration, said that improved interdisciplinary co-operation among government agencies would ensure food safety and hygiene at public places. 

The agencies are creating safe food chains to ensure that safe food is used, especially at schools and industrial park kitchens. 

Although food poisoning is closely monitored by agencies, the risk remains high, he said. 

Between 2011 and 2014, the Food Administration agency conducted inspections of more than 2.6 million food establishments. 

Around 20 percent of the establishments violated regulations on food safety and hygiene, Phong said, adding that these establishments were fined 75.5 billion VND (3.3 million USD). 

In 2011, 148 food poisoning cases occurred, increasing to 194 in 2014. The figure fell by 179 in 2015. 

Twenty-five cases were recorded in the first quarter, with two people dying from food poisoning. 

The causes were contamination from microorganisms and chemicals, but the cause of many food poisoning cases was difficult to determine. 

Losses caused by food poisoning in 2011 were estimated to be 239,550 USD, increasing to 270,436 USD in 2014 and 283,874 USD in 2015. 

Dr Pham Duy Tuong of Hanoi Medical University’s Nutrition Faculty said that illegally imported food was difficult to control. 

Phong said the Ministry of Industry and Trade and provincial people’s committees, especially those in border provinces, would ensure closer monitoring of illegal imports. 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will also continue strict surveillance of the trade and use of chemicals to protect plants and vegetables. 

Phong said the Government should allocate sufficient funds to meet the goals of the national programme on food safety and hygiene. In 2014, the fund was cut by 60 percent. 

Allocation of other funds, including one to build a national experimental institute for food safety and hygiene, should also be done soon, according to Phong.-VNA