France is currently the largest cattle producer in the EU and dominates the beef trade in the political-economic union of 28 member states with its estimated 510 million strong population.
In June 2015, the World Organization for Animal Health declared the French beef industry as having a negligible risk for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease.
This is the best possible sanitary status that can be attained for BSE, reserved for the countries that have demonstrated a perfect management of the disease and that have had no reported cases for a minimum of ten years (April, 2004 for France).
Before this upgrade, the French industry had been classified under the already commendable category of ‘controlled risk status’.
The initial goal in this past first year of implementing the trade deal with Vietnam was to build trust with Vietnamese consumers, noted French Ambassador to Vietnam M. Bertrand Lortholary.
This was done so Vietnamese consumers would come to know that the meat is safe to eat, the French Ambassador added.
Beef products had been banned in the Southeast Asian country since 2000, after BSE swept through Europe with devastating effect.
The deal to allow French beef into Vietnam came last December on the heels of the signing of a free trade agreement between the EU and Vietnam officials. Vietnam initially authorized 23 beef producers in France to begin exporting.
For the past year, only frozen beef has been allowed into Vietnam, said French Ambassador Lortholary, to allow the Vietnam government to gauge the ramifications to the local industry and consumers’ reception to it.
One of the key benefits of French beef is its traceability, said the Ambassador, noting that the origin of most beef varieties can be traced directly back to the individual cow that gave birth to the calf the beef originates from, as detailed records are kept on all calves.
For comparison purposes, for Australian beef, another major exporter to the Vietnam market, traceability stops at the farm level. Accordingly, French beef standards are much more in line with strict US standards, aimed at rigorously ensuring food safety.
French breeds such as the Limousin, Charolais or Blonde d'Aquitaine are much larger than those from other countries like Australia and the US, often weighing in at one and on-half metric tons.
Sales in Vietnam have been brisk in the first year with French beef producers having sold an estimated 370 metric tons, said Ambassador Lortholary, noting plans are in the works to start shipping fresh beef to the Southeast Asian country soon.