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Sep 27, 2022 / 07:13

Overlaps and lack of labs hamper food safety control

Overlapping in inspection and monitoring activities among regulatory agencies is also a reason for inefficient food safety management.

The lack of quality testing labs has been blamed for unsafe food in Hanoi's market.

According to Tran Manh Hung, Deputy Director of Hanoi's Market Surveillance Agency, the number of quality testing laboratories is small, leading to lengthy testing, which makes it difficult for inspection and testing, especially for fresh food samples.

"The current regulation only accepts test results at the designated laboratory," he stressed.

 A member of the Hanoi Department of Market Management is checking products. Photos: Le Nam

The shortage of testing labs is one of the key reasons hampering the prevention work on food hygiene and safety.

A market surveillance statistic shows that, as of September 5, more than 600 cross-inspection teams visited 3,848 food service and other relevant establishments, detected violations at 80 facilities, and fined them more than VND458 million ($19,273). The number of breaches in the first six months of 2022 was 2,966, among the total 16,294 inspected establishments.

Overlapping in inspection and monitoring activities among regulatory agencies is also a reason for the inefficient management of food safety. Though Hanoi's functional forces have prevented a large amount of unsafe food from circulating in the market, this work remains insufficient, according to local experts.

According to a representative from the Hanoi Sub-department of Food Hygiene and Safety, currently, food safety management is under the jurisdiction of many regulatory agencies. The Hanoi Sub-department of Food Hygiene and Safety is only in charge of the inspection stage, the municipal Department of Industry and Trade manages the quality of products sold in the supermarket system. Meanwhile, the city’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development supervises products sold in wet markets.

Offenses have continuously been detected

In the past, the city's functional forces have handled many cases of selling and transporting food without a certificate of origin. In a recent raid on a food store in Thanh Cao commune (Thanh Oai District), the market surveillance force found 10 tons of spoiled chicken cartilage and feet. The warehouse owner could not provide invoices and documents proving the origin of the goods.

Another concern is the quality of food sold online and made in DIY stores. Le Kim Lien, who resides at 85 Dang Van Ngu Street, shared that online food stores continually advertise their products as clean and safe food or "clean vegetables harvested from gardens." Still, it is difficult for consumers to be sure whether these products are clean.  

Acting Director of the Hanoi Department of Industry and Trade Tran Thi Phuong Lan said most establishments selling food through social networking sites such as Zalo and Facebook are doing business without a license and their products have no food safety certificate. "The store owner only guarantees the quality of the product. Such food sold online also has the potential risk of food safety," he added.

According to the municipal Department of Industry and Trade, in the first six months of 2022, the functional forces found more than 1,000 establishments violating food safety standards, and another 39 were sanctioned for selling expired food safety certificates.

Vu Vinh Phu, a local retail expert, told The Hanoi Times: "According to regulations, enterprises producing and trading food, beverages, and alcohol can self-declare product quality. After sending the product quality report to local authorities, they are allowed to sell, while the authorities are responsible for the subsequent inspection."

 Need for a focal unit

 It needs a focal unit that is responsible for controlling from the stages of production to distribution.

According to Hanoi's Market Surveillance Agency, to guarantee the legitimate rights of consumers, the government has enacted the Food Safety Law of 2020. However, the law also requires up to three ministries, including Agriculture and Rural Development, Industry and Trade, and Health, to supervise food safety, which has led to the lack of a clear division of responsibilities for each sector, as well as overlapping during the inspection process.

“The fact that the three ministries jointly manage the food safety work makes the process of handling unsafe food or inspection become cumbersome and time-consuming,” he said.