Selling pork in Vietnam

SafePORK’s interventions have contributed to safer pork and food systems in Vietnam

The six-year ‘Market-based approaches to improving the safety of pork in Vietnam’ project (SafePORK) concluded with a closing workshop on 28 March 2023 in Hanoi, Vietnam. At the workshop, the SafePORK team shared the key findings of the project including cost-effective and practical ways of making pork safer along the Vietnamese smallholder pork value chain. The team also discussed ways to scale out the project’s results.

About 70 participants attend the closing workshop of the SafePORK project (photo credit: ILRI/Elizabeth Jones).

Anna Okello, research program manager for livestock systems at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which funded the project, said SafePORK focused on improving food safety in Vietnam as a key goal, which is also one of the key priorities of the government. ‘Food safety was identified as one of six priorities of the project at start in the agreement between the ACIAR and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam,’ she said.

The SafePORK project sought to reduce the burden of foodborne disease in informal, emerging, and niche markets in the country. It developed and evaluated simple interventions for improving food safety while safeguarding livelihoods in the Vietnam pork sector. Its results provide policymakers and the public with scientific evidence for actionable policy options to better manage food safety in the country.

The project’s interventions targeting traditional retail were effective in reducing microbial contamination in pork. ‘After intervention, the prevalence of Salmonella in retailed pork decreased from 52% to 24%,’ said Fred Unger, the regional representative at ILRI in East and Southeast Asia, while presenting an overview of the program and its key achievements. These include low-cost and scalable interventions at slaughterhouses and traditional markets in four provinces of Hung Yen, Nghe An, Thai Nguyen and Hoa Binh, developing the indigenous Ban pig in the northwestern Hoa Binh Province, developing risk communication capacity for different actors in the value chain, and engaging the private sector in the project implementation.

Fred Unger, ILRI regional representative in East and Southeast Asia and SafePORK PI presents key achievements of SafePORK project (photo credit: ILRI/Elizabeth Jones).

Project team leads from implementing partners – the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, the Hanoi University of Public Health, National Institute of Animal Sciences and the University of Sydney – also presented assessments, interventions, and reflections from the project.

Simple interventions by SafePORK and building the capacity of value chain actors has helped to reduce incidences of Salmonella, which is a prevalent foodborne problem in Vietnam. Foodborne illnesses are common and though most cases are mild, infections can be severe and affect anyone. Salmonella contamination of pork is especially high in the country and on average, 1­–2 in 10 people are at risk of contracting pork-borne salmonellosis annually. Those most at risk are children under the age of 5, elderly 65 and above, pregnant women, and those with health issues.

From a survey of pork smallholder value chain actors, six key reasons were identified as the leading cause of unsafe pork: poor hygiene, improper preservation and processing techniques, long meat transportation time, disease, unclear origin of pork, and low-quality inputs.

The SafePORK team introduced an intervention package with measures to improve hygiene in pork handling, which have been adopted by value chain actors in the country. These include separation of ready-to-eat pork and raw pork, and frequent washing of surfaces, equipment and vendors’ hands. An intervention package was also introduced at slaughterhouses that increased the use of stainless steel grids to prevent carcasses from contacting the floor, promoted frequent washing of hands and surfaces, and better separation of clean and dirty zones to further reduce carcass contamination.

A pork retailer in Hung Yen Province washes his hands frequently as a recommended practice by SafePORK project (photo credit: ILRI/Chi Nguyen).

In the plenary discussion, the project team heard reflections from different actors in the value chain:

Since I adopted SafePORK’s recommended practices, I have sold more pork and attracted more customers. The project is amazing, nothing is more precious than this,’ said Nguyen Thi Thuy, a pork retailer, Tien Lu District, Hung Yen Province.

Doan Thi Tuyen, president of a farmer’s union in Le Xa Commune, Tien Lu District, Hung Yen, noted that 70% of the union members have changed their awareness and behaviour to distinguish between safe and unsafe pork because of the projects interventions.

Nguyen Ba Tam, vice-president of Le Xa Commune in Tien Lu District, Hung Yen, shared that the project has provided training for departments and organizations in the commune leading to greater awareness of food safety and increased trade in safer pork.

‘This project has shown that simple and low-cost interventions can reduce the level of pork contamination in traditional markets helping to address the big problem of food safety,’ said Hung Nguyen, co-leader of ILRI Animal Human Health Program and leader of the CGIAR Initiative on One Health. He added that other programs such as the CGIAR Initiative on One Health will scale out these research outcomes to more people in other provinces in Vietnam.

The workshop was followed by a structured discussion with various project partners on lessons learned and ways of scaling out the project results. Opportunities for further research were also explored.

Panel discussion at the workshop, from left: Roft Schoenert, policy expert, SafeGRO project, Tang Anh Vinh, cice head, Community Animal Health Division, Department of Animal Health of Vietnam, Anna Okello, research program manager for livestock systems, ACIAR, Le Quoc Anh, director, Happy Mart and Pham Van Hung, researcher, Vietnam National University of Agriculture (photo credit: ILRI/Elizabeth Jones).

Shirley Tarawali, acting ILRI director general, closed the workshop and noted that ‘SafePORK research and interventions have contributed significantly towards safer pork in Vietnam while supporting many livelihoods. These lessons and valuable insights will help achieve safer food systems for the country and beyond.’

The workshop was hosted by ILRI and attended by more than 80 participants including donors, leaders, project implementers, researchers, partners from national programs and research institutions, international partners, and the private sector representatives.

SafePORK (2017–23) was funded by ACIAR. It was implemented by ILRI, the Vietnam National University of Agriculture, the Hanoi University of Public Health, National Institute of Animal Sciences and University of Sydney, Australia, in five provinces of Vietnam of Hanoi, Hung Yen, Nghe An, Hoa Binh and Thai Nguyen.

Written by Elizabeth Jones, communications fellow, and Chi Nguyen, communications officer at ILRI East and Southeast Asia

Media clippings: Market-based approaches to improving the safety of pork in Vietnam project closing workshop