SAFE AND ORGANIC CERTIFICATION OF FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES PRODUCTION IN VIETNAM
Driven by increasingly high concern for food safety and health, more and more consumers in Vietnam, especially in cities are looking to buy fresh fruits and vegetables that carry a certification label. However, the majority of consumers remain largely uninformed about the meaning of these certifications and labels. This article provides some information about the most common certificates for agro-products in Vietnam in order for consumers to make a better choice when they buy foods in general, and fruits and vegetables in particular.
What are safe and organic vegetables?
Safe vegetables are vegetables that contain acceptable levels of chemical residues that do not harm humans’ health. In Vietnam, these acceptable levels are determined by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. This means that agrochemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers can be used, as long as their applications follow good agricultural practices (such as compliance with a non-spraying period before harvest) and that their residues in vegetables remain below safe limits.
Organic vegetables are vegetables which are produced according to organic standards. The International Federation for Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) defines organic agriculture as "a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved." Different standards have different regulations but in general, organic farming is understood as a series of practices that strive to promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. The use of synthetic agrochemicals & food additives, as well as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is usually prohibited by organic standards. Pest control and soil fertilization must thus be ensured using alternative methods.
Three levels of certifications
According to the “Environmental and social standards, certification and labelling for cash crops” published by FAO, the certificate demonstrates to buyers that suppliers comply with certain standards. The standard-setting can be done by any party: the supplier, the buyer or an independent organization that has no direct interest in the economic relationship between the supplier and buyer. Based on the type of certification body, certifications can be divided into 3 types: first-party verification, second-party verification and third-party certification.
An internal control conducted by a producer or company itself is first-party verification. When a buyer or an association to which a supplier belongs verifies if the supplier complies with a standard as is the case with Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), it is a second-party verification. Third-party certification is always done by a certification body who gives assurance that a product, process or service is compliant with certain standards. The certification body might carry out the actual inspection itself, or it can contract the inspection to an external inspector or inspection body.
Most common food safety certifications in Vietnam
Consumers in Vietnam are likely to find vegetables that have one of the following certificates:
VietGAP stands for ‘Vietnamese Good Agricultural Practices’. It is the name of a standard published by the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The standard comprises regulations and procedures applied to the production, harvesting and post-harvest processing of vegetables, livestock and aquaculture products. It helps to guarantee the safety and quality of agro-products, ensure social welfare and the health of producers as well as consumer, protect the environment and make information about products traceable to consumers. Inspired by GlobalGAP, EurepGAP and GAP from other Asian countries, VietGAP regulations contain provisions on fertilizers and additives, irrigation water, chemicals, varieties, waste management, labour safety, traceability and the resolution of complaints.
The certification bodies are accredited by the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
More information here.
Products with a USDA Organic label come from a farm or handling facility that complies with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic regulations, and are certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents. The USDA organic regulations recognize four categories of organic products: crops, livestock, processed products and wild crops
More information here.
Products labeled “EU Organic” must meet the requirements of European regulation no. 834/2007 on organic production and labeling of organic products, and its implementing regulation 1235/2008 published by the European Commission. The EU regulation on organic farming covers not only production and processing, but also the control and labelling of organic food to ensure that consumers’ confidence can be built. The EU requires a strict control system with checks carried out at every stage of the organic chain. Every operator (farmer, processor, trader, importer or exporter) is checked at least once a year, or more often on the basis of risk assessment. List of control bodies and control authorities in the organic sector in the EU can be found here.
More information here.
PGS safe or PGS organic
PGS is the abbreviation for Participatory Guarantee Systems. PGS is an initiative of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) and was first introduced to Vietnam in 2008 as a second-level verification system. Contrary to other certification mechanisms that require the involvement of costly external auditors, PGS certify producers based on the active participation of stakeholders such as producer groups, consumers, supporting organizations (NGOs) and organic traders in the PGS coordination board and inspections. PGS is built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange. PGS is a verification mechanism that is used together with a food safety or organic standard. In Vietnam, PGS is applied both with an organic standard recognized by IFOAM (PGS organic from PGS Vietnam) and with a food safety standard named BasicGAP which was recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture in July 2014 (PGS safe).
Food safety and hygiene certificate
Food Safety and Hygiene certificates are given to facilities that produce, process or sell foods to certify that they meet the food safety requirements as defined in the Food Safety Law. Agencies responsible for issuing the Food Safety and Hygiene certificate might belong to one of the three Ministries: the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Industry and Trade.