New Vietnam food centre seeks to improve traceability, safety and standards in wake of recent concerns

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

The signing of the Letter of Intent last Thursday between Prof. Chris Elliott, Queen's University Belfast, and the Vietnam Food Integrity Centre represented by John Keogh.
The signing of the Letter of Intent last Thursday between Prof. Chris Elliott, Queen's University Belfast, and the Vietnam Food Integrity Centre represented by John Keogh.
Blockchain technology is set to feature strongly at a new Vietnam Food Integrity Centre (FIC), which aims to improve standards in a nation that has been rocked by safety and hygiene issues in the recent past.

The FIC is a public-private partnership to improve the integrity of Vietnam’s food chain and hopes to address 14 out of the 21 recommendations by The World Bank for Vietnam’s food safety risk management.

“In Vietnam, food safety is of great concern to both consumers and policymakers and frequently appears in the media… and in policy discussions… This is the result of repeated episodes of adulterated and unsafe food,” ​stated The World Bank report Vietnam Food Safety Risks Management — Challenges and Opportunities,​ in 2017.

“These include the following: Frequent reports that toxic pesticide residues in vegetables, antibiotics and banned veterinary residues are often found in meat or suspected to be present; urea is used for fish conservation; spoiled animal-source food is salvaged and consumed, and high levels of microbial contamination in meat are routinely reported.”

The new centre will seek to strengthen national food safety monitoring and surveillance and improve data management.

Traceability will also be a major focus as industry players seek to develop a “farm to fork” food chain approach.

Testing procedures and regulatory compliance will also be enhanced, along with a greater focus on communication.

John Keogh, president of Shantalla Inc. and driver behind the initiative, said the centre would focus on improving access to technology and ramping up safety and traceability standards across the food chain.  

On top of this, the FIC will help with new product development, branding or packaging, and credence claims verification such as in verifying “pesticide-free” or “organic” claims.

For overseas clients who want to source products in Vietnam, the Centre will provide advisory services to find and test the best products and to help set up their supply chains.

Partnership approach

Keogh said partners in the project include the Washington-based Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) Science and Education Foundation (SEF).

“GS1 Vietnam, the not-for-profit supply chain standards body under the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), will also align with us here to provide education and training on the use of GS1 standards,”​ said Keogh.

The technology component will be managed by TMA solutions, a Saigon-based software developer with a global presence.

“TMA will become our development partner and utilise a blockchain protocol from Slovenian partner OriginTrail,”​ he explained.

“The advisory section will be managed by Bluewave Advisory alongside Shantalla Inc, and other parties.”

Keogh said the Centre now also has support from INEXTO, a Swiss-based traceability and anti-counterfeit solution that will be providing a “world-leading traceability platform”​ for the centre’s clients.

According to him, the current plan is to further develop the vision, mission and strategy of the FIC and to formalise the business plan, including identifying projects and international donors, in the first 90 days of the programme.

“Needless to say, we are targeting sources already dedicated to Vietnam, and many foreign governments and intergovernmental agencies have funding in place. We hope to tap into this funding and earmark specific projects,” ​he said.

While the FIC has been launched this week, it is currently co-located with analytical laboratory firm Hoan Vu until strategic planning is complete.

“The innovation and incubation capability will be prioritised as we have several companies who need help with technical food safety, supply chain enablement, and branding and go-to-market strategies, including knowledge of regulatory requirements in their target markets,” ​said Keogh.

Said Tien Dinh of honey producer Nhieu Loc, “We use Hoan Vu laboratory to control 100% of our raw material and finished product. Their test reports are accepted by US packers and they now do the sampling and sealing drums for one of the biggest honey importers in the US.

“The Food Integrity Centre will add more credibility.”

Keogh will act as director and chairman of the FIC until the board is appointed.

Vietnam’s National Strategy for Food Safety had recently set out five major objectives: Improve knowledge and practice on food safety; strengthen capacity of the food safety management system; significantly improve food safety at facilities for producing and processing food; significantly improve food safety at retail; and effectively prevent acute food poisoning.

The new FIC helps to address all these objectives, added Keogh.

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