It is vital for Vietnam to manage its production and distribution of dietary supplements if it plans to prevent potential threats to consumers, according to a senior government food health official.
The country has been witnessing mushrooming trade in supplements, with as many as 50% of urban adults consuming these, said Tran Quang Trung, director of the Ministry of Health’s Food Safety and Hygiene Department.
"But most of them are not given sufficient and official information on the effects of these foods on human health," he noted, admitting that the management of functional food in the country is still lacking appropriate regulations, resulting in a chaotic market flooded with both legitimate and fake products.
"Take Korean Gingsen as an example: there are hundreds of brands with similar labelling, and buyers cannot recognise the difference between real and fake products," he said.
Massive growth in supply
According to the chairman of the Vietnam Association of Dietary Supplements, Tran Dang, supplements have been among the fastest growing food sectors over the past decade.
The ratio between imported and locally produced supplements has narrowed from 65% in 2007, to 35% today. While there were just 60 product varieties from 15 importers in 2000, 3,700 dietary supplements had become available by the end of 2010 with 1,626 producers and importers.
However, many functional foods available in the local market are still not clinically tested.
People need protection
Meanwhile, functional food producers and traders have been accused by the Vietnamese government of inflating the importance of supplements, resulting in harm for users and even deaths.
Deputy health minister Nguyen Thanh Long announced this week that he has asked the relevant authorities to regulate the functional food industry.
He also confirmed that the ministry plans to issue regulations on labelling, provisions for usage information, clinical examinations and post-production quality checks.
"We should put people's health as our foremost priority," Long said.