Consumer confidence traceable
Food safety has become an issue of utmost concern these days, not only for foreign importers but also for local consumers, so the key question is how and where food is produced. In other words, what today’s buyers want is that food items are traceable. Such a trend is now being proactively taken by both State management agencies and enterprises, who have become aware that it is a matter of survival.
So, when HCMC authorities initiated the food origin tracking program, first with pork last month and then with veggies this week, the move has got enthusiastic response as seen in local media.
As reported, the HCMC Department of Agriculture and Rural Development this Wednesday launched a veggie origin tracking program, allowing two cooperatives to sell traceable vegetables in the chains of Co.opmart, BigC and LotteMart. This is a follow-up initiative after a pork traceability program was launched by the HCMC Department of Industry and Trade on December 16, which has been met with wholehearted response from consumers.
HCMC vice chairman Le Thanh Liem asserts in Tuoi Tre newspaper that the traceability program for pork and vegetables is of paramount importance to ensure that local consumers can have clean foods, especially during the upcoming Lunar New Year when the food demand surges. Liem also reveals that the program is not just about pork and vegetables, but other products in modern shopping channels like supermarkets and traditional wet markets.
With the program in place, consumers need only a smartphone with some apps to obtain full information about pork and vegetables now on sale at designated outlets, such as the rearing farm, the cultivation area, the slaughterhouse and the process in which pigs are raised or vegetables are grown. Pham Thanh Kien, director of the HCMC Department of Industry and Trade, says on Vnexpress news website that in the next stage, authorities will go to greater lengths in controlling pig rearing steps at farms.
Also according to Vnexpress, up to 80% of the HCMC population has smartphones, so it is convenient for them to get full information about foods they purchase.
The program in HCMC has sent ripple waves to other localities as well. Most recently, Binh Duong Province has started a pilot plan to open selling points for safe pork with traceable origins at Thu Dau Mot and Bung Cau markets, according to Tuoi Tre.
Commenting on the benefits of this program, Tran Phu Cuong, head of the provincial animal husbandry, veterinary and seafood management agency, says that the safe pork selling points will help ease concerns of consumers about substandard pork on the market.
While making products traceable shows a great effort of HCMC authorities, many enterprises have long been aware of this need, because it helps enhance consumer confidence in their products.
Bui Huy Binh, managing director of a service company providing tracking solutions, says in Tuoi Tre that in the past couple of years, many farming and food processing enterprises have contacted his company to launch tracking systems in their networks. Enterprises from such provinces as Lam Dong and Dong Nai have launched their own systems when selling products in HCMC, including rice, fish sauce, meat and fish.
Enterprises, especially those shipping products to choosy markets like the United States, Japan and the European Union, have become used to stringent requirements, a special component among which is the tracking of product origin. So, it is natural that they are applying the practice to win consumer confidence.
Consumers have also been well aware of the need to trace product origins, as seen in the bustling atmosphere at outlets where traceability is introduced. Nguyen Thi My Chi, a consumer from Phu Nhuan District, enthusiastically says in Tuoi Tre that now she could learn how vegetables are fertilized, what pesticides are used, and who grows the products, all within just three seconds.
Dan Tri observes that origin-traceable vegetables at Rach Mieu Co.opmart are selling like hot cakes. The news site quotes a consumer named Nguyen Thi Hong Hau as saying that “I have peace of mind when purchasing foods, especially at the upcoming Lunar New Year.”
But, traceability alone is not a magic wand to help producers win consumer confidence if it is not accompanied by tough measures to ensure that producers fully observe standards in their production processes, says Tuoi Tre in an editorial. As regulated in the HCMC traceability program, vegetable farmers will make notes on their own on the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and submit such records to the cooperative concerned two days before harvest, and their produce will be given tracking stamps.
Therefore, there may be certain producers who intentionally cheat consumers by giving false information to make bigger gains. Nguyen Phuoc Trung, director of the city’s agriculture department, says in Tuoi Tre that tracking is just an assistance vehicle, and it is not meant to replace quality control measures by the State. That is to say State agencies must continue to maintain their close supervision on production.
Thoi bao Kinh te Sai Gon Online comments in a feature that traceability shows the commitment by producers to ensure the quality of their products, and is a step towards transparency. The compliance of producers to transparency standards and the close supervision of State management agencies will help restore the confidence of consumers that have been eroded following incidents on dirty foods and false and misleading information about foods.