Dateline Southeast Asia
Vietnam: Tougher penalties needed to stamp out food violators
The Ministry of Industry and Trade has uncovered more than 55,000 violations for counterfeit and low-quality goods, including dirty food, nationwide so far this year.
Do Thanh Lam, deputy chief of the ministry’s Market Management Board, said businesses will keep violating hygiene rules without punishments that are strict enough.
"The amount of money [transgressors can be fined] 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, another food safety official, said that food hygiene violators can only be prosecuted if they cause death or serious harm to the public.
"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.
"Hygiene control has been so far only carried out in large-scale abattoirs, supermarkets and wholesale markets," said Chu Xuan Kien, head of Ha Noi's Market management board.
“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 personnel.”
National food agency needed for troubled rice producers
Indonesia’s rice farmers have proposed forming a national food agency association of rice farmers after the government announced an increase in rice imports.
Idham Arsyad, chairman of Gerbang Tani, which represents rice producers, suggested that president Joko Widodo should head up the new agency.
“This authority will have full authority over national food policy,” he said.
Idaho said farmers were worried about rice import plans, which will be implemented by the vice-president because the government’s domestic production figures are not accurate enough to predict supply. Indonesia expects to have a shortfall of supply this year.
“With this food agency, the vice-president will not decide whether to import rice or not,” Idaho said.
Vietnam has won a contract to supply 1m tonnes of rice to Indonesia, worth Rp4.8tr (US$356m), as the government finds ways to address the expected shortage.
Idham said doing so would be against the government’s plans to achieve food sovereignty.
The Central Statistics Agency had previously predicted that Indonesia would have a rice surplus of 10.5m tonnes this year.
However, a reduced stock of just 1.8m tonnes has served to drive up prices to above Rp10,500 (US$0.79) per kilo for premium quality grain.
Malaysia-China trade up by nearly 10% this year
Malaysia’s trade development corporation, Matrade, has predicted that trade between Malaysia and China will increase to RM455bn (US$110bn) this year—a US$8bn increase on 2014.
Chief executive Datuk Dzulkifli Mahmud said the growth is a result of a commitment between the two nations to increase bipartite trade to US$160bn by 2017.
So far this year, trade between Malaysia and China has grown by 9.6% “despite the current economic challenges,” Dzulkifli said. “China remains our most important trading partner.” Imports have risen 9.8% to RM82.18bn so far this year.
Only less than 5% of business between the two countries has been transacted in renminbi, with traders were still used to currencies like the US dollar and Euro.
“We hope the usage of the renminbi will increase with programmes like this because the reliance on the US dollar has its disadvantages due to foreign exchange fluctuations,” Dzulkifli said.
Jakarta mulls relaxing its sugar import restrictions
Indonesia may relax its raw sugar import regulations in a bid to protect its domestic industry, which has seen a spate of refinery closures this year.
According to a Reuters report, it will do so by imposing biannual sugar quotas, rather than continuing with the current quarterly method.
Saleh Husin, Indonesia’s minister of industry, told the news wire: “One of my concerns is that production in food and beverage industries is not stopped because of lack of material.
“For next year, we will probably no longer use the quarterly scheme. We’ll extend it so that there will be certainty of supply for the food and beverages industry.”
The country’s sugar industry is split in two and tightly regulated. Households, retail and small-to-medium firms rely on domestic white sugar supplied by a network of older mills, while modern refineries import raw sugar, mostly from Brazil, Thailand and Australia, for large-scale food and beverage industries.
Indonesia is already considering softening its policies on cattle and rice imports as President Joko Widodo looks to tackle sluggish economic growth, a weak rupiah and fluctuating food prices.
Philippines hunger on the wane but still ‘serious’
The Philippines now ranks 53rd in the global hunger index. Its score of 20.1 is still “serious”, though it marks a decline from 22.1 in 2005 and 26.2 in 2000.
Including the Philippines, hunger levels of 52 out of 117 countries tracked by the International Food Policy Research Institute’s index remain seriously alarming.
Looking at undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality, the index tracks global hunger by country and region, awarding each one an index number.
According to the severity scale, a score of 9.9 is low; 10.0-19.9 moderate; 20.0-34.9 serious; 35.0-49.9 alarming; and 50.0 extremely alarming.
The report said the proportion of undernourished in the Philippines’ population is 13.5%; 30.3% for prevalence of stunting in children under five years; 3% for under-five mortality rate, and 7.9% for prevalence of wasting in children under five years.
Vietnam begins nutrition programme on back of UN’s SDGs fund
Vietnam has begun an integrated nutrition and food security programme in a bid to end malnutrition and stunting for children and vulnerable groups.
It starts a week after the country joined 193 other nations in signing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals fund that aims to put an end to hunger and poverty by 2030, from which Spain has already donated US$1.5m to Vietnam.
The programme will focus on two high poverty provinces including Lao Cai province in the north and Ninh Thuan province in the south to gather data and evidence that will inform national policy changes and scale up sustainable and integrated nutrition and food security models.
Deputy health minister Nguyen Thanh Long said although Vietnam reached the Millennium Development Goals of halving both under-five mortality and infant mortality, malnutrition among children under five remains a major public health challenge.
National statistics have shown a slow but steady decline in malnutrition rates, though poor nutrition still accounts for 45% of total under-five deaths. Recent figures indicate that a quarter of children under five are stunted while 14.5% are underweight.
"This project will practically contribute to improving the health and nutrition of mothers and children in Vietnam and orient the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations has just adopted," Long said.
Insecurity forces Singapore fish supply rethink
Singapore must insulate itself from fish supply uncertainties in the countries that provide the majority of its imports.
“Malaysia, which provides around a quarter of our fish supply, bans the export of certain fish for various reasons,” Home affairs minister Desmond Lee told a conference in Singapore.
“So it is always good to have at least some level of self-sufficiency in certain food items.”
To this end, Lee’s ministry plans to increase the quantity of locally produced fish from 8% to 15%.
To do so, the aquaculture industry needs to leverage in innovation and technology to boost productivity in fish farms, Lee said.
He added that farmers and their produce should also be better protected from environmental risks like the plankton bloom that wiped out 600 tonnes of fish in local waters in March.
The incident has prompted Temasek Polytechnic and the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore to implement workshops to help farmers develop contingency plans against another possible case of plankton bloom.
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