Tran Quang Trung, head of the Ministry of Health's Department of Food Safety and Hygiene, talked to Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam newspaper to set the record straight about the recent hike in milk prices.

* Is the ministry responsible for the labelling of powdered milk products as "additional" or ‘‘nutritional‘‘ foods, which has been used as a loophole by businesses to boost product prices?

The ministry didn't issue any regulations on the labelling of foods or how that affects their price.

However, this year the ministry decided to issue national technical standards for milk and nutritional products for children under 36 months old, as there are too many dairy products made from cow or goat milk sold for newborns.

The protein content in breast milk is between 11-12 percent while in cow and goat milk it can be up to 34 percent. This high volume of protein may cause health issues for babies who can't digest such large amounts of nutrition, leading to diarrhea and failure of the liver and lungs.

The ministry has analysed breast milk to create a system of technical standards for milk targeted at children under 36 months old. Milk producers must follow these standards on protein, lipid, amino acid, vitamins and other kinds of minerals to produce milk that is suitable for each different age.

After the ministry launched the regulations, many dairy companies dodged the law by changing the name of their milk products to ‘additional' or ‘nutritional' food and then unreasonably increasing prices.

Some people have blamed the ministry for removing the price controls over powdered milk. This is inaccurate.

The ministry is only in charge of controlling what kinds of substances go into milk products. Moreover, many kinds of dairy products are not essential goods, such as soybean milk, yogurt and dairy candy, and these genuinely do not have to have price controls enforced on them.

* Do you mean that the ministry, or the Department of Food Safety and Hygiene, has no responsibility for controlling milk products?

We are in charge of food safety, not market prices. According to the Law on Food Safety and Hygiene, any organisation or individual who wishes to produce or trade food must get a licence of food safety and hygiene from the department, so do milk enterprises. All requirements of powdered milk, fresh milk, yogurt or condensed milk have been clearly issued by us.

You say that controlling milk prices is out of the ministry's hands, so why did it issue a list of milk products which are under price control?

The ministry issued Circular 30/2013/TT-BYT, defining milk for children under six years old as a product with a fixed price.

This list includes milk products and food supplements for children under 36 months old as well as milk and nutritional products containing milk regardless of whether or not it contains supplements.

However, only products that can replace breast milk or formula milk are on the list. All snacks such as yogurt or dairy candy are not under price control.

The ministry also asked the department to announce the list of milk suitable for children under six. The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry Industry and Trade is responsible for pricing other products at the market.

The price of powdered milk has been increased 30 times in the past six years, at between 3-20 percent at a time. The retail price of powdered milk in Vietnam is about 1.4 per litre USD and rated among the highest in the world.

The retail price of milk is 1.1 USD in China, 0.5 USD in India and 0.5-0.9USD in Europe. The cost of powdered milk in Vietnam is about 1.5 times higher than that in Thailand and Malaysia.

To deal with the problem, the Ministry of Health has announced a list of milk products whose prices must be controlled.

The Ministry of Finance has required milk companies producing, distributing and trading milk for children under six years old to list the factors on which they set prices for their products.

Meanwhile, six dairy producers who increased their prices from early this year will be asked to report to the ministry before November 25 and explain the reasons why.-VNA