Lack of strict punishments have made it difficult for local authorities to tighten control over businesses violating food safety as more and more samples of meat, vegetables and seafood have been found failing to meet hygiene and quality standards, threatening local people's health, since the beginning of this year.
Market regulators in Ha Noi have found many cases that violate the regulations on food hygiene and safety at supermarkets and markets, since the beginning of this year.
According to the new report of the Market Management Board under the Ministry of Industry and Trade, since the beginning of the year, it discovered and penalised more than 55,000 violations for counterfeit, low-quality goods including dirty food, nationwide. The Ha Noi Market Management board imposed a fine of more than VND4 billion (US$182,000) on 753 violation cases and destroyed low-quality goods worth nearly VND7.3 billion ($324,400).
Management on food hygiene has become difficult for local authorities as there are 3,000 slaughterhouses operating in residential areas in the capital, up to 2,540 of which fell well below expected quality levels. Ha Noi only houses seven industrial large-scale abattoirs.
"Hygiene control has been so far only carried out in large-scale abattoirs, supermarkets and wholesale markets. In order to control goods on a larger scale, a much bigger number of personnel should be mobilised, which is difficult for us at the moment due to our limited number of personal," said Chu Xuan Kien, head of Ha Noi's Market management board.
Moreover, he added that violators had sly ways to hide their fraudulence to the authorities.
While dirty food can be imported from other countries with a low price, many businessmen closed their eyes to the health of consumers to gain money, said Le Quoc Dung from the Ha Noi Market management board.
Do Thanh Lam, deputy chief of Market Management Board under the Ministry of Trade, businesses keep violating hygiene rules because the punishments have not been strict enough.
"According to the Resolution 178/2013/ND-CP that enterprises which carry and sell goods of an unknown source were fined from only VND3 to 5 million. However, this amount of money is insignificant compared to the huge amount of money that they can gain from their fraud. That's why it doesn't prevent them from violating the rules," Lam said.
Tran Hung, Deputy chief of the Secretariat of the Steering Committee 389, said that food hygiene violators can only be prosecuted if they cause death or cause serious consequences on health to someone.
"That's why, if they are found on the road violating hygiene rules, they are only subject to administrative punishment, or have their goods confiscated. That's not severe enough to deter them from fraud," he said.
He added that some abattoirs which have already been granted the food hygiene certificates, do not obey the hygiene rules in their operation.
In order to prevent the transfer of animal meat which does not meet food hygiene criterion, Chu Xuan Kien urged stricter control at supermarkets and wholesale markets. The market management board should also guide and encourage cattle-breeding farms transporting meat from provinces to Ha Noi in frozen cars.
In particular, the Prime Minister issued Resolution 38/2015/QD-TTg ratifying the project to set up local inspection teams at the district and ward level in the capital to check food processing and trading enterprises.
More over, customers are also encouraged to buy clearly labeled food with trademarks. If a customer detects any food processing and trading enterprises that violate food safety regulations, he or she should inform the authorities.