ACIAR’s Agricultural Development Policy program is working to support Vietnamese policy makers in navigating the complex policy arena as the country moves into a new economic phase. Food safety is a priority for Vietnam, and one that is identified as a key theme in ACIAR’s newly agreed Vietnam strategy. Our new project, on ‘Policy analysis of food safety and trade in Vietnam’, is therefore very timely. The project aims to develop capacity in policy analysis and engage with key stakeholders and policy makers to enhance food safety in Vietnam’s local and international markets.
Food safety has been a priority in Vietnam since 1990 but the number of food poisoning outbreaks has barely diminished. In 2010 there were 175 outbreaks reported involving over 5,000 people with 51 deaths, similar to levels in 2000. Most (61%) food poisoning episodes occur in the family home. The melamine milk crisis in China in 2008 raised awareness in Vietnam about the importance of food safety. Vietnam imports food from China, and also exports to China, and having safe food standards will support trade between both countries.
While many types of economic activity can best be left to the market, food safety is one area where government intervention may be required. Producing safe food adds a premium, so that safe food will generally be more expensive. Left to the market, unsafe (low cost) producers will drive out safe (higher cost) producers. In such cases the government can usefully intervene by providing standards and product certification to inform consumers.
Standards and regulations – A balanced approach
The adoption of science-based international food safety standards can help manage food safety risk and improve the predictability of and access to domestic and global food and feed supply chains. An example is the international food standards developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission which are set from the perspective of allowable residues and contaminants. However the use of standards should be balanced, as enforcing overly strict standards can reduce access to markets.
Careful and targeted implementation of policies relating to food safety, without overregulating, is likely to increase the safety of food consumed domestically, as well as opening opportunities for international trade which will also lead to food security through poverty alleviation.
Project activities will include:
- identifying the extent and frequency of foodborne illnesses, and estimation of their economic costs;
- identification and analysis of existing policies relating to food safety and trade in Vietnam;
- analysis of value chains for focus commodities, and identification of points of food safety risks along the chain;
- identifying constraints, barriers and opportunities for improving food safety standards in domestic and international markets;
- training on key tools for food safety policy analysis;
- engaging with the public and private sectors to develop recommended policy options; and
- supporting dissemination of food safety and policy information.
While the project is in the early stages, expected impacts are increased international and domestic trade; social impacts through increased trust in the safety of domestic food safety and associated improved public health, income and livelihoods; and environmental impacts through reduced pesticide and other chemical use.
- Food safety is a priority for Vietnam, and a key theme in the new ACIAR Vietnam research strategy.
- Food safety needs government intervention in the form of careful and targeted policies, but without over-regulating.
- The new project aims to develop capacity in policy analysis, to move towards improved domestic food safety and associated improved public health, and contribute to increased international and domestic trade.
Feature image: ACIAR is supporting safe food in Vietnam through several research projects and support for policy development. Pictured: Ms Thanh from Fresh