In order to improve quality and ensure food safety standards of these products, adjustment in both policies and management process are needed, instead of taking action when a violation is discovered, according to the industry's insiders.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Thuy, Head of Hoi quan cac ba me (Mothers' Club), said many people did not have confidence in the quality of certified products or goods distributed in the supermarket system even before the fraudulent practice of turning vegetables with unclear origin into VietGAP-labelled ones was discovered.
A product was once granted a certificate for meeting a quality standard but this certificate might be used forever, so no one could guarantee the true quality of that product even if it was labelled, Huong said.
She said herself and many other consumers chose to buy food, especially vegetables and fruits, from acquaintances that they knew their farming methods were safe, even if the products were not or had not been certified.
What consumers care about was the actual quality and safety of the food rather than the certifications on its packaging. The problem was that not everyone could monitor or observe farming methods, so they temporarily put their trust in the certifications. However, after the news that vegetables with unclear origin was labelled VietGAP, and Chinese mushrooms were labelled as Vietnamese, consumers really did not know where to put their trust, Thuy said.
Vo Thi Bich Thuy, Deputy Director of Quality Management Department at Co.opmart supermarket chain, blamed customers' loss of confidence on their inadequate understanding of the process of monitoring and managing input quality of supermarkets and insufficient communication and information transparency of distributors.
To ensure the quality of goods, each distribution system had a detailed control process, Thuy told a conference in HCM City late last week.
At Co.opmart, the quality of goods, agricultural and food products were not only controlled at the import stage through quick testing of product samples and taking samples for testing but also by actual monitoring of the supplier's raw material areas so that unqualified or suspect products would be removed before being sent to the distribution centre.
In addition, Co.opmart also focused on training for producers so that they could properly understand and fulfill their commitments on product quality, especially food products, Thuy said.
Also at the conference, Nguyen Thi Hong Minh, Chairwoman of Association of Food Transparency, outlined the ineffective control process as the biggest loophole in the current food supply chain.
After several field trips to big wholesale markets of HCM City, she found out that all imported products, including those imported from China, had labels clearly stating production units and quarantine certificates while Vietnamese goods brought to the wholesale market were packed in white bags without information of production unit, its address and contact.
This came from the fact that agricultural products were not required by the law to have standard certifications such as VietGAP and GlobalGAP. Also, fresh fruits and vegetables were not required to have labels and planting area codes, Minh explained.
She added all current solutions on controlling and managing the quality of agricultural products and foods were mainly based on the self-discipline and voluntary spirit of producers and distributors and each of them had their own way.
Minh petitioned that the current law had to be adjusted in which revised regulations on quality management such as mandatory traceability of agricultural products and foodstuffs were needed.
At the same time, wholesale markets should build up an effective control process to remove all unsafe products before they entered the consumption chain, she suggested.
Nguyen Binh Phuong from Thu Duc Agriculture Wholesale Market JSC which runs Thu Duc wholesale market in HCM City emphasised the importance of controlling the quality of agricultural products and food right from production areas. That required state management agencies to have regulations on applying and monitoring the production processes besides ensuring traceability and labelling of products.
Earlier in September, several companies were alleged to have bought uncertified vegetables at wholesale markets, label them with VietGap stickers, then supply them to supermarkets and safe-food store chains.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development then took action, saying that it was investigating these cases.
Director of the ministry’s Department of Crop Production Nguyen Nhu Cuong said that the department would set up inspection groups to scrutinise the certification of VietGap, stressing that violators would face strict sanctions.
The National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department (Nafiqad) under the ministry asked food safety management authorities of HCM City, Da Nang, Bac Ninh and departments of agriculture and rural development of Central-level provinces and cities to verify the sale of fake VietGap vegetables.
Currently, there are more than 40 units eligible for VietGap certification, of which 12 are under the Department of Crop Production. The rest are under the management of Nafiqad and the Ministry of Science and Technology.
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