Pepper growers, for one, said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) at a recent conference in Pleiku, have made significant strides during the past decade to reduce the likelihood of foodborne illnesses.
However, judging from the ongoing prevalence of recalls much more can and should be done on this front.
MARD speakers noted that from the beginning of 2015 through mid-2016, a total of 17 shipments of pepper to the EU exceeded the maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides and were rejected.
In this regard, MARD joins with pepper growers in welcoming the new EU regulations amending the MRLs for pesticides in or on food and feed of plant and animal origin that have gone into effect as of August 10 for all produce entering the market.
On the heels of these recently enacted rules, MARD is now in the process of amending and publicizing food safety laws and regulations along with policies and procedures benchmarking its own standards and requirements to the new EU rules.
MARD, wants to be confident that the country's pepper farmers comply with the new EU standards and ensure there is robust evidence that Vietnamese farmers and other actors in the industry certifiably abide by them.
Consequently, speakers told those in attendance that MARD has determined that compliance requires mandatory worker training for work forces industrywide on how to use pesticides safely and the importance thereof.
Most importantly, the speakers highlighted, the training will encompass the broader connection between welfare and produce safety and the link between improper use of pesticides resulting in disease and death of pepper industry workers.
Overuse of MRLs also results in an ‘invisible’ erosion of the soil resulting in a decrease in the soils productivity resulting in lower crop yields as they contaminate soil, water, and other vegetation and kill a host of other organisms including birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.
MARD representatives noted workers who are trained to recognize and address the most common sources of abuse of MRLs are the first line of defence against foodborne diseases.
When these workers understand the intent of preventive protocols and have channels to signal problems with implementation, they can then help verify the country’s compliance with food safety measures.
Our ultimate goal, the MARD reps continued, is to increase consumer assurance in the EU that safety protocols are followed in the Vietnam pepper industry on a thorough and continuous basis.
Pepper they said is principally grown in the Central Highlands and the South Eastern Region of Vietnam. It is a vitally important agriculture commodity, having produced 133,000 metric tons of product in 2015.
The volume of exports in 2015 was down significantly from the range of 140,000-150,000 metric tons for the three period 2012-2014 primarily as a result of the invisible erosion caused by overuse of MRLs.
Nguyen Quy Duong, deputy head of the Plant Protection Department under MARD, suggested that growers and other actors in the segment of the economy need a new vision.
Imagine what the industry would be like if workers had received adequate training to understand the connection between their use of MRLs and the safety of the produce they are growing, he said.
Imagine an industry where workers were encouraged to identify common threats to produce safety not only from MRLs but from animal waste to fungal infestation to handling procedures.
An industry where workers and management directly communicate to develop solutions that are best for the growers and others in the industry and one that ultimately serves the best interest of the final consumer.
This is the vision that MARD has and wants to instil in the pepper industry, Mr Duong emphasized.
Vietnamese farmworkers are extremely skilled, said Mr Duong, and their experience and knowledge can be refined and tapped into, to serve as a vital component of an effective strategy to prevent foodborne disease, he noted.