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Cablegate: Vietnam Struggles to Ensure Food Safety in Its Domestic

VZCZCXRO8508
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD
DE RUEHHI #2012/01 3330657
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 290657Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6794
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 3997
RUEHZS/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEHPH/CDC ATLANTA GA
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHINGTON DC
RUEHSUN/USUN ROME IT

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 HANOI 002012

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EAP/EP, INR, OES/STC, OES/IHA
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR ANE AND GH
STATE PASS TO USTR FOR DBISBEE
HHS/OSSI/DSI PASS TO OGHA (WSTIEGER/LVALDEZ/CHICKEY), FIC/NIH
(GLASS), FDA (MPLAISER)
CDC/COGH FOR SBLOUT/KMCCALL/RARTHUR, PASS TO NCZVED/DFBMD/EDEB
(RTAUXE/EMINTZ) AND GDD, IEIP, DEOC
USDA PASS TO APHIS, FAS (OSTA AND OCRA), FSIS
BANGKOK FOR CDC (MMALISON/SMALONEY/AHENDERSON), USAID/RDM/A
(CBOWES/JMACARTHUR), APHIS (NCARDENAS), REO(JWALLER)
ROME FOR FAO

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAGR ETRD SENV TBIO EFIN ETRD VM
SUBJECT: VIETNAM STRUGGLES TO ENSURE FOOD SAFETY IN ITS DOMESTIC
MARKET

REF: A. HANOI 1924 B. HANOI 1891 C. HANOI 1841 D. HANOI 1511

HANOI 00002012 001.2 OF 004


1. (SBU) Summary: Recent media reports of contaminated foods in the
marketplace have drawn public attention to Vietnam's struggle to
improve its domestic food safety controls. Vegetables, fruits, and
animal products contaminated with toxins are common in Vietnam and
the number of food poisoning cases continues to climb. The recent
cholera outbreak in and around Hanoi highlights the Government of
Vietnam's (GVN) difficulties in preventing food-borne illnesses.
Eager to develop its food exports, the GVN has done a better job of
ensuring the safety of its food products sold abroad. Hanoi would
like to replicate that relative success and is now planning measures
to more effectively address food safety at home. In September, the
Prime Minister approved a national program to improve food safety
and the Ministry of Health began to draft a new Food Safety Law.
The GVN recently asked the United States, which earlier provided
technical assistance to upgrade Vietnam's food inspection practices,
for additional help in crafting its food safety regime. End
Summary.

Food Scares Hit Vietnam
-----------------------

2. (U) The Vietnamese media has been providing consumers with a
string of alarming reports of dangerous pesticides on fruit and
vegetables and cancer-causing chemicals, including the recognized
carcinogen formaldehyde, in soy sauce and "pho" noodle soup. A
recent survey by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's
(MARD) Plant Protection Department found pesticides on 30 to 60
percent of the vegetables tested in Hanoi markets, including
substances banned in Vietnam and other countries. For example,
metamidophos, one such banned insecticide, has been found in
Vietnamese produce. Although metamidophos has been linked to health
problems in China, Hong Kong, South Korea and the United States,
Vietnamese farmers continue to apply it to crops to control insects.
Vietnamese inspectors have also found plant-protection sprays,
heavy metal, antibiotics and micro-organisms on agricultural
products.

3. (U) According to statistics from the Ministry of Health's (MOH)
Food Safety and Hygiene Department, over the first nine months of
2007 Vietnam experienced 5,368 cases of serious food poisoning
requiring medical attention, a 22.4 percent jump over the same
period last year. Tran Dang, Director of the Ministry of Health
(MOH) General Department of Food Safety and Hygiene told us that 34
people have died this year due to food poisoning.

4. (SBU) Early reports have tentatively linked the origin of the
recent cholera outbreak affecting northern Vietnam to consumption of
raw food, especially shrimp paste (ref B). Poor hygienic conditions
in food processing and food preparation may be helping to spread the
disease (ref A). To fight the spread of the problem, the GVN has
banned the sale of shrimp paste in certain northern provinces and
urged the population to avoid uncooked foods. Anecdotal reports
suggest spotty compliance in Hanoi.

Many Risks to Domestic Food Safety
----------------------------------

5. (SBU) In Vietnam, ensuring safe food products depends on many
factors, including food industry knowledge and training capacity,
animal breeding conditions, soil quality, fertilizer usage, animal
feed purity, harvesting practices, protection against insects and
disease, food preservation techniques, processing equipment,
transportation hygiene and consumption habits. Unsafe food is still
imported across borders, and counterfeit, low quality and
out-of-date food is sold in markets. These factors particularly
impact foods for local consumption, including those from poorly
sanitized food processing facilities and mass kitchens. Contrary to
the large-scale entities which produce for export, small-scale
facilities (an estimated 80 percent of the 390,000 food producers

HANOI 00002012 002.2 OF 004


are considered to be small-scale or household producers) carry out
most food production for the domestic market. The GVN does not have
the capacity to ensure clean facilities, equipment, and practices
for these smaller, and often informal, entities. In contrast to its
more robust inspection program for exports (ref D), Tran Dang,
Director at the General Department of Food Safety and Hygiene, told
us that Vietnam lacked well-trained inspection staff and "has no
inspectors specialized in food safety" for the domestic market.

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?
------------------------------

6. (SBU) Although the GVN introduced an Ordinance on Food Safety in
November 2003 and instituted implementing regulations in September
2004, it has yet to coordinate effectively its food safety efforts.
Despite recommendations from many observers, including Gia Phan, the
Vice-Chairman and Secretary General of the Standards and Consumer
Protection Association of Vietnam, that the government assign one
ministry as the lead agency for food safety, many GVN ministries
continue to share responsibility. For example, MARD regulates the
food production stage, the Ministry of Industry and Trade watches
food processing and the MOH ensures the safety of food reaching the
dinner table. (Note: the recently-announced merger of the Ministry
of Fisheries into MARD might remove overlapping layers of
responsibility for some products.) Additionally, industrial
organizations play an important role in ensuring food quality.
Vietnam relies upon a mixture of decrees, circulars, and statements
issued by various ministries and provincial authorities to address
food safety. Most of these documents, however, focus on setting out
bureaucratic responsibilities instead of food management standards.
An MOH analysis noted that overlapping responsibilities, a
short-term focus, poor implementation and weak enforcement led to
gaps in food safety control.

Catering to the Export Market
-----------------------------

7. (SBU) Eager to develop its food exports, Vietnam has done a
better job of ensuring the safety of its food products sold for
export markets abroad. Vietnam cooperates closely with its trade
partners to try to ensure the safety and hygiene of its agricultural
exports. Relatively few Vietnamese agricultural shipments have been
found unsafe. Vietnamese exports to the United States have a track
record similar to those of Indonesia and Thailand. Vietnam would
like to increase its agricultural exports (particularly fruits), by
selling a broader product mix. To date, however, a number of its
major trade partners, including the United States, have yet to
provide sanitary and phyto-sanitary clearances for such intended
exports as dragon fruit, longan, lychee, and rambutan.
Additionally, despite Vietnamese cooperation with U.S. regulatory
authorities to ensure top quality shipments (ref D), some health
concerns remain over current Vietnamese exports. For example, the
United States has in the past rejected a relatively small number of
Vietnamese shipments of aquatic products due to the presence of
veterinary drug residues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) and other USG agencies continue to monitor Vietnamese
practices.

GVN Wants to Upgrade Food Safety Protections
--------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) According to the Vietnam Food Safety and Agriculture Health
Action Plan, the Vietnamese economy loses over USD one billion each
year in production losses and missed export possibilities due to
pests and food-borne diseases. Aside from the impact on the

HANOI 00002012 003.2 OF 004


domestic market, an inadequate food safety network limits potential
growth for Vietnamese agricultural exports, which totaled USD 9.6
billion in 2006. Currently, Vietnam's major agricultural exports
include seafood, vegetables, cashew nuts, coffee, tea, spices, rice
and instant noodles, which it sends primarily to the United States,
EU, Japan, China, Australia, Singapore, Germany, Indonesia, UK, and
Taiwan. Agricultural exports to the United States surpassed USD one
billion in the first 9 months of 2007, according to U.S. Bureau of
the Census trade data.

9. (U) To prevent these losses and maintain a reputation as an
exporter of safe products, the GVN is paying greater attention to
food safety. In his annual report to the National Assembly in
October, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung repeatedly noted Vietnam's
need to upgrade its food safety and hygiene practices and stated
that Vietnam would develop a Food Safety Law to organize, manage and
ensure food quality. The PM has assigned the MOH, in coordination
with the Ministry of Justice, primary responsibility to draft the
law. Two weeks earlier, the Prime Minister approved a five-year USD
81 million national food hygiene and safety program covering food
quality and food production management. The program also includes
efforts to control diseases spread via food and foodstuffs.
According to MOH's Dang, the GVN is committed to follow regional and
international standards to ensure food safety. Dang also noted that
his department was creating food hygiene inspection teams in Hanoi
and Ho Chi Minh City, which will train up to 12,000 food inspectors.
If successful, MOH might expand the program nationwide.

Hungry for More Assistance from the FDA
---------------------------------------

10. (SBU) In his initial meeting with the Ambassador in late
October, Vietnam's new Minister of Health Nguyen Quoc Trieu listed
food safety as one of his top three priorities and requested U.S.
FDA assistance to upgrade Vietnamese capacity (ref C). One week
earlier, the MOH Food Administration Department sought financial and
technical assistance in crafting the new Food Safety Law. These new
requests come on the heels of recent U.S. assistance to Vietnamese
food safety authorities, including a U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) training course for senior Vietnamese meat inspectors and a
Food and Agricultural Export Alliance (FAEA) led workshop in Vietnam
for government and private sector officials on Codex Alimentarius
and WTO's Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement. The FDA Assistant
Commissioner for International Affairs will review continued
cooperation with Vietnamese health and food safety officials during
a planned visit to Vietnam in mid-December.

11. (U) Vietnam is also turning to other donors and international
partners to address this issue. At a World Bank meeting in November
to gather input on next year's theme for Innovation Day, the GVN
representative pushed for food safety over two other proposed themes
of gender and governance.

12. (SBU) Comment: As the local press attention has highlighted,
Vietnam must do more to address food safety. Domestically,
contaminated foods sicken tens of thousands every year. Public
reaction to these stories has been strong, with many people
expressing irritation that the GVN has not been able to do more to
ensure that the food they consume is safe. Vietnam has implemented
effective, although not perfect, safety regulations, practices and
procedures for its food exports by coordinating with the exporting
industries and cooperating closely with its trading partners. Hanoi
would clearly like to replicate that relative success domestically,
and has turned to international donors for assistance. U.S.
assistance could have a positive impact here, with the potential to
improve public health, continue to advance Vietnamese regulatory
controls for exports and strengthen ties between food safety experts
that can help promote U.S. agricultural exports to Vietnam. The
upcoming visit of the FDA Assistant Commissioner for International
Affairs is a timely opportunity to address these issues. End
comment.

HANOI 00002012 004.2 OF 004

13. (U) Post coordinated this cable with Ho Chi Minh City.

MICHALAK

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