Vietnam is becoming a key market of interest for health supplements businesses. Over the past decade the growth of functional foods has doubled. However, while the market has rapidly grown, the regulations relevant to these products have not kept pace and are still in the early stages of development and implementation.
The four key regulations for functional foods in Vietnam are the guidelines on the management of functional food; the regulation on food product declaration; the regulation on good labeling, and the regulation on food importation inspection. These regulations do set down certain rules, for example the active ingredients in health supplement products may not exceed three times the daily human requirement, and health claims are permitted provided they are supported by data from clinical trials or published literature, or are approved by the competent authority of the country of origin. However, the Vietnamese authority faces difficulties implementing these regulations because of a lack of specialists within government on health supplement products and limited post-marketing control systems, particularly at the provincial levels.
The authorities recognize these challenges and on reviewing their regulatory system, are planning to implement a new food safety law in July this year. The law will clearly place health supplements under the definition of ‘functional food’. Based on this definition it is likely that there will be tightening up on the use health claims, for example, claims referring to the treatment and prevention of diseases, which will most likely no longer be permitted on the market.
The new food safety law clarifies that health supplements fall under ‘functional food’, which is defined as:
“foods/products with function for the maintenance, promotion of health, reducing the risk of diseases, which include dietary supplements, health products and medical supplements”
Despite the coming new law, many expect that the authority will look towards the ASEAN health supplement harmonization process already underway as a framework for its regulations. Already, Vietnam is actively participating in the ASEAN working group for harmonization, which involves discussions on aspects of safety (e.g. establishing maximum levels for vitamins and minerals), quality and efficacy guidelines, and capacity building to enable regulators to effectively implement the new harmonized requirements.
ASEAN aims to have its regulatory framework ready by the end of 2011, and its 10 member countries, including Vietnam, are required to implement this by 2015. The next five years are destined to see a fundamental change in Vietnam’s regulatory framework for health supplement products.