Vietnam's New Decree on Food Safety Takes Immediate Effect

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February 14, 2018 - Nhat Nguyen

Following an earlier announcement on 2 February 2018, the Vietnam Food Administration (VFA) published a new decree on 5 February 2018 on food safety entitled Decree 15/2018/ND-CP Guidance on the Implementation of a Few Articles of the Food Safety Law. The new Decree replaces the existing Decree 38/2012/ND-CP with the same title, and Article II of the Joint Circular 13/2014/TTLT-BYT-BNNPTNT-BCT, and outlines the regulatory controls and duties for various agencies regarding food safety audits and inspection. It also covers issues such as labeling and advertisement for food products, procedures for self-declaration of packaged food products (including food additives, etc.), registration of specialized products such as food for children, food safety certification for GMO products, country of origin, and other requirements for manufacturing and trading food products. The Decree was signed on 2 February 2018 and takes immediate effect. 
 
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Companies who manufacture and trade in packaged food products including food additives, processing aids, food packaging materials, and packaging materials in direct contact with food must self-declare that these products meet safety product standards. These forms must be submitted to the competent authorities designated by the Ministry of Health. Once a company has self-declared the product, the company will be liable for any safety issues relating to the product but will be permitted to manufacture or trade the particular product.  
 
Food products which are produced for children under 36 months, health or dietary supplements, foods for special medical purposes, medical foods, and foods for special dietary uses must also be registered with the Ministry of Health.  Food additives which have not been approved for the specific usage in Vietnam must also be registered. This requirement is applicable to those exceeding the maximum threshold, category of use, or new additives which have not been specified by the Ministry of Health. The registrant for an imported product must submit certification information as specified by the Ministry as part of the registration dossier. Domestic manufacturers must provide documentation such as licenses showing that it has met certain food safety standards.  
 
Food products must contain all relevant labeling requirements as issued by the Ministry of Health and other agencies. Products such as medical foods, foods for special medical purposes, or foods for special dietary purposes must include specific labeling phrases on the label. The labels of imported products must contain the name and details of the manufacturer as well as the information for the Vietnamese entity responsible for the product. Imported products with foreign language labels are acceptable but must include supplemental labels in Vietnamese. Excluding spices and herbs, products whose packaging is smaller than 10 square centimeters are exempt from certain labeling elements on the product label.
 
The new decree also provides requirements for advertisement and claims and provides that all of the required registered products must be notified to the Ministry of Health for the claims regarding the product prior to the product's advertisement. 
 
The decree requires that all certifications and permissions regarding the safety of GMO products must comply with the requirements under Decree 69/2010/ND-CP and Decree 108/2011/ND-CP (amending Decree 69). Products containing GMO ingredients or components which are greater than 5% of the total ingredients in a product must follow all labeling requirements including a declaration of GMO ingredients except in certain circumstances. 
 
Finally, Decree 15/2018 specifies only agencies authorized by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Ministry of Industry and Trade have the authority to inspect food imports.
 
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The new Decree introduces new requirements and consolidates many of the existing controls on food safety in Vietnam. The changes here might increase additional regulatory burdens for companies trading in food and food ingredients in Vietnam. All food or food related companies should consult the Decree as well as existing requirements in Vietnam to ensure that their products and practices conform to these requirements. Some products will need to be relabeled or risk mandatory recall and/or other administrative penalties. 
 
Vietnam is currently drafting a revised Decree on administrative and civil penalties for the violation of food safety. As such, violation of Decree 15/2018 might be subject to tougher penalties once the new Decree on Administrative Penalties and Sanctions is issued. While the enforcement level remains sporadic and unpredictable, the new changes in both regulatory requirements and penalties signal a more stringent regime than previously seen in the country. In addition to the regulatory changes, food safety has also been one of the higher areas of concerns for Vietnamese consumers. Food safety violations will often tarnish the product's brand and may have much swifter and more costly and severe consequences for a particular product than any particular civil penalty. The usage of social media in Vietnam has allowed information to spread much more quickly. The dissemination of this type of information has had the effect of creating ad-hoc or sustained boycotts by some consumers.

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