Mandatory addition of micronutrients hurting Vietnam’s food industry

By Phan Anh   June 27, 2018 | 06:55 pm PT
Mandatory addition of micronutrients hurting Vietnam’s food industry
Farmers harvest salt in Ninh Thuan Province in central Vietnam.
Insiders suggest that the inclusion of micronutrients in food products should only be encouraged, not made compulsory.

A decree requiring the addition of micronutrients to food products is making them unattractive and more difficult to sell, industry insiders say.

The decree, which went into effect last year, requires businesses to include iodine in salt and iron and zinc in wheat flour.

Asahira Keita, deputy marketing director of food firm Acecook Vietnam, said the mandatory inclusion of minerals like iron or zinc in flour has hurt his company, the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.

Keita said the resulting flour has a darker color than normal flour. Its texture also changes and makes the end product less appealing to customers, he added.

“To make our food products more appealing, we would have to research new recipes, which would certainly cost us more,” he said.

Keita had other concerns too. Several countries don’t allow the inclusion of micro-nutrients in food products, so Vietnamese food firms would need to go through lengthy procedures to export food products with micronutrients into such countries. Foreign customers are also not fond of food products with micro-nutrients, he said.

“This is a tough challenge for businesses like ours. We might even have to stop exporting products into these long-time partner countries, just because they don’t have the same requirements as Vietnam does,” Keita said.

He said one solution could be to create two types of flour separately; one for domestic use and another to be exported. But doing so would be too costly and expensive, as the firm, which is currently deploying an automation-focused production model, can only afford one automated system. Right now, it is being used to make flour infused with iron and zinc for domestic use.

Therefore, flour without iron or zinc that is used for export products, must be manually packaged.

“This is too costly, time-consuming and inefficient,” said Keita.

Processing challenges

Businesses are also finding it hard to follow the decree’s guidelines as the processing method could change the levels of micro-nutrients in the products.

Lam Ba Nhi, quality control director of Vietnamese meat processing firm Vissan, said the application of heat during food processing could destroy the iodine included in food products.

Therefore, when food products are tested, levels of iodine present could be lower than the decree’s mandates, Nhi told

Lam proposed that the inclusion of iodized salt should not be made compulsory in food processing.

Last month, the government had said the Health Ministry should carry out further research so that appropriate changes can be made to the decree, in which the inclusion of micro-nutrients in food products should only be encouraged, and not made compulsory.

The Ministry of Health has not responded since.

“We want the Ministry of Health to take action and follow the government’s suggestion,” said Nguyen Hoai Nam, deputy general secretary of Vietnam Association of Seafood and Producers.

The decree came in the wake of advice from the Iodine Global Network, which ranks Vietnam among the top 19 iodine-deficient countries.

The network had advised that Vietnamese people use iodized salt directly in food seasoning, food processing, and livestock feeding.

Prolonged iodine deficiency can cause nerve damage among infants and children; and make pregnant women suffer miscarriages or go into preterm labor. Adults can also suffer goiter, nerve damage and mental illness.

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