Confusion reigns when it comes to food safety in Vietnam and greater awareness is becoming paramount.
It’s 7am on a Sunday morning and Mrs. Le Thi Tam has just been to her local market in Vinh Phuc ward, Ba Dinh district in Hanoi to buy food for the week. She was careful in choosing everything she bought but when asked why she chose certain products she said she follows her heart and has no idea about food safety and hygiene.
“I choose old vegetables and fat meat, which I consider to be safe,” Mrs. Tam said. “To be honest, when grocery shopping it’s difficult to distinguish between healthy and unsafe food.”
After VET asked another ten housewives at the market about their purchases it was clear that none could tell the difference between good and bad.
It’s a problem found all around the country, unfortunately. Many people joke that they don’t know what they should eat and perhaps should just starve.
Warnings about contaminated food come nearly every day, such as coffee made from soy flour, contaminated pork skin, dirty oil, vegetables infected by insecticides, pork infected with banned substances like salbutamol or neuroleptic, pork soaked in chemicals to masquerade as beef, or salted shredded meat with unsafe food coloring. The “Say No to Dirty Food” program launched by Vietnam Television shows pictures of poor quality food but not many people seem to take note.
In 2015, 140 cases of serious food poisoning were recorded in Vietnam, affecting 4,273 people, of which 20 died. As at March there were 17 cases of serious food poisoning this year, affecting 1,011 and killing two.
“Together with food poisoning, unsafe food can also cause a slow death,” said Professor Ngo Thi Ngoc Anh, Director of the Research Center for Gender, Family and Community Development. “Contaminated food will directly impact on the country’s future.”
As reported by Hanoi’s Bach Mai Hospital in 2014, every year Vietnam has some 110,000 new cancer patients and more than 73 per cent die. Its report also showed that Vietnam has among the highest death rates from cancer in the world.
According to figures from the Ministry of Health, every year about 150,000 new cancer cases are identified and 75,000 people die. Cancer is becoming a terrible problem in the country. An analysis of patient data shows that more than one-third of the country’s cancer patients are in the 25-49 year old age group.
The main factors in cancer cases in Vietnam are smoking, lack of physical activity, alcohol, and obesity. Contaminated food is also considered a carcinogen, because eating unsafe food for long periods causes genetic mutations, making people more susceptible to cancer. The most common type of cancer in Vietnam is gastrointestinal cancer, accounting for over 22 per cent of all cases.
The Chairman of the Vietnam Cancer Association, Professor Nguyen Chan Hung, said that food containing banned chemicals and substances contain carcinogens but their effect takes time to become apparent.
A number of campaigns against unsafe food have been conducted to assist consumers in choosing clean and healthy products, with local authorities making a great deal of effort to fight the scourge.
The Criminal Code 2015 will come into effect on July 1, introducing new penalties for violating regulations relating to food hygiene and safety. Anyone who uses banned substances or processes and distributes food known to be unhygienic will be subject fines of up to VND200 million ($9,000) and as long as 20 years in prison.
On March 30 a joint program was approved by then Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Chairman of the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF) Nguyen Thien Nhan to encourage and supervise food safety and hygiene in the 2016-2020 period. The program targets raising awareness among individuals, households, organizations, and food producers and businesses about safe food and heighten their responsibility for ensuring people’s health. It also aims to encourage, commend, and expand role models in the production and business of safe food while punishing infringements.
The program will propose, amend, and supplement the legal system over the State management of food hygiene. It looks to encourage at least 90 per cent of agricultural households to commit to producing safe food and 100 per cent of collectives to produce and trade in safe food by 2020. All communes recognized as new rural areas and towns considered to be in civilized urban areas must meet hygiene food standards.
The Agricultural Trade Promotion Center under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development launched the first e-market for Vietnam’s agricultural, forestry, and fishery products, called AGROMART, at the end of last year. Via the www.agromart.com.vn website, AGROMART helps consumers select safer and certified products with clear origin.
Many companies investing in clean food see it as a potential investment niche and even real estate enterprises and electronic retailers have entered the field.
In 2015 VinEco built a 24.5 ha greenhouse in northern Vinh Phuc province with investment of VND