Companies permitted to issue Vietnamese Good Agricultural Practices (VietGAP) certificates in Vietnam have been granting the certificates to firms that may not meet government requirements, according to a recent investigation by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
Tuoi Tre reporters recently went undercover as food producers in need of VietGAP certificates for their products.
During their investigation, they visited the Ho Chi Minh City office of VietPAT Technology and Quality Announcement JSC – a Da Nang-based VietGAP company that helps obtain VietGAP certificates and certifications for organic and environmentally-friendly products.
At the VietPAT office, L., a salesman for the company, told the reporters that they had to provide a business license; statistics about their farm; and samples of their soil, water, and vegetables in order to gain VietGAP certification, or the application of production methods to churn out clean and safe fruits and vegetables.
“We offer a simple procedure, quick certificate issuance, and no training,” L. said.
The reporters then expressed concerns that their ‘farm’ might fall short of VietGAP standards, but L. assured that “we will try to help within our ability, but we might have to adjust a bit.”
Tr., a sales manager at VietPAT, explained to the reporters that the company had ways of bending the rules in favor of its clients.
“With our previous customers, their soil and water samples never failed to meet the criteria, but for vegetable samples, we asked them to use those from supermarkets for testing. The result was fine,” he said.
L. also offered to take care of sampling for the reporters in order to cut down on time.
All the reporters were told to do was provide a business license and pay VietPAT VND25 million (US$1,052), inclusive of VND20 million ($842) for the certificate, VND2 million ($84) for soil and land sample testing, and VND3 million ($126) for the testing of two vegetable samples.
“Once you've received the certificate, you can supply goods to supermarkets because they will not check your products again. Only vegetables imported from abroad are subject to further testing,” L. said.
VietGAP certification is valid for up to three years and is meant to involve annual inspection to ensure farms maintain VietGAP standards.
According to L., however, the inspectors “never come.”
Instead, farms merely fill out an online form and pay a fee of VND6 million ($252.5).
“[Issuing the VietGAP certificates] is hard but we can do it. The inspections are just a mere formality,” L. revealed.
L. also explained that his company offers a five percent commission to farmers who refer new customers.
|Tr. (L), a sales manager, and L., a salesman at VietPAT, claim they can help farmers access the VietGAP certification without providing vegetable, soil, and water samples for testing. Photo: Bong Mai / Tuoi Tre|
Just a formality
At GreenCert Product Management and Quality Certificate JSC – another Da Nang-based certification company with an office in Ho Chi Minh City – a director named Th. told the undercover reporters that his firm required an online assessment in order to grant VietGAP certificates, and soil, water, and vegetable samples only needed to be sent in for sampling, meaning inspectors would not visit the farm during the certification process.
Th. also explained that his GreenCert provides clients with signage they can use to claim they meet VietGAP standards and that these signs should be used regardless of whether or not a farm truly does meet such standards.
“In case of inspections, you will have evidence,” Th. said.
To better understand the VietGAP certificate issuance process, the Tuoi Tre reporters contacted Viet Quality Consulting and Training Co. Ltd. and spoke with H., a customer service manager who connected them with a consultant named Th.
The reporters met with Th., who explained that it normally takes 1.5-2 months to get a VietGAP certificate, but that duration can be shortened to 25 days if customers are in a hurry.
The certificates are valid for three years, during which time the company conducts two inspections.
After the meeting, the reporters confirmed to H. that they would be able to obtain VietGAP certification within 25 days, that their first inspection would be carried out no later than 12 months from the certificate issuance day, and that they would be notified in advance of the inspection.
H. also noted that the company does carry out unannounced inspections of its customers.
Putting an end to VietGAP certification fraud
According to Dr. Nguyen Huu Huan, a lecturer at the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City, many Vietnamese believe that products labeled as 'VietGAP' are of high quality, therefore, illegally trading these certificates harms both public health and the general business environment.
In order to prevent such issues, VietGAP certification should be more tightly regulated and management agencies should launch unannounced inspections of farms with VietGAP certificates.
Those that fail to meet standards should face heavy sanctions.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Nhu Cuong, director of the Department of Crop Production under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, shared that there are more than 40 units empowered to issue VietGAP certificates, including 12 under the management of the Department of Crop Production and over 30 under the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Agro-Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department.
The trade of VietGAP certificates is a fraud. Units issuing certificates to those who fail to meet VietGAP standards must bear legal responsibility, he said.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development issues VietGAP certificates without collecting fees.
Units designated as VietGAP certificate issuers will negotiate with those in need of the certificates in line with the law.
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