The Role of Proximity and Standards in Guaranteeing Vegetable Safety in Vietnam1

Date01 March 2015
Published date01 March 2015
World Food Policy - Volume 2, Number 1 - Spring 2015
The paper deals with the comparison
of two major ways to increase
consumers’ reassurance about the
safety of food: interpersonal trust and
expert systems of quality control based
on standards. We will rst present the
growing concern of consumers for food
safety in general and in Southeast Asia
more particularly. We will then review
the literature on interpersonal trust
and expert systems as quality assurance
devices with their respective strengths
Paule MoustierA & Nguyen i Tan LocB
e Role of Proximity and Standards in Guaranteeing
Vegetable Safety in Vietnam1
A CIRAD, UMR MOISA, Montpellier, F-34398, France
B FAVRI, Trau Quy, Hanoi, Vietnam
1 A preliminary version was published as: Moustier, P. 2013. Reengaging with Customers: Proximity Is
Essential but Not Enough, In: Acta Horticulturae, 1006:17-33.
In Asia, the growth of purchasing power, especially in cities, come together with
rising consumers’ concerns for food safety. We investigate two mechanisms
of food safety assurance, i.e., proximity (between farmers and consumers),
and certication based on standards. e literature suggests the following
hypotheses: (i) proximity in food chains comes together with low farmers’ cost
for quality assurance, but also limited scope of operation; and (ii) “abstract”
expertise systems that form the basis of standardization imply high costs
at the expense of inclusion of small-scale farmers, but enable large scope of
operation; the impact on consumers’ trust is controversial. e paper is
a preliminary attempt to test these hypotheses on the situation of vegetable
safety assurance in Northern Vietnam. e authors’ eldwork brings to the
fore a variety of standards and quality assurance systems: safe vegetable
certication by the Plant Protection Department, based on—quite lax—
public standards and control; it is in some cases supplemented by internal
control systems; VietGap and AseanGaps based on good agricultural practices
and HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point); and participatory
guarantee systems (PGSs) for organic vegetables. e hypotheses are partly
conrmed. One interesting outcome relates to the combination of systems
based on relational proximity, expert systems, and labeling on the origin of
vegetables as enhancing consumers’ trust and farmers’ commitments. e
paper concludes with recommendations in terms of policy and research.
Keywords: Food safety assurance, standards, proximity, vegetables, Vietnam
e Role of Proximity and Standards in Guaranteeing Vegetable Safety in Vietnam
of weaknesses. Illustrations taken from
the authors’ work in Vietnam, and also
on some secondary sources, will then
be presented. e authors’ experience is
based on the study of domestic rather
than export markets, and on vegetables
rather than other commodities. e
paper concludes with a summary of the
main issues and some recommendations
in terms of research.
Growing concern for food safety
The growing distrust of consumers
in the safety of food is widely
documented in both developed
and transitional economies. is is
related to the growing intensication (in
terms of use of chemical inputs) or even
industrialization of food production and
processing, as well as to the growing
distances between food production and
food consumption sites.
As stated by Ménard and
Valceschini (2005), “recent developments
have encouraged consumers to adopt
a ‘suspicious approach.” Technological
innovations, combined with the
diversity of product origins and the
internationalization of trade, stimulate
consumers’ risk aversion, which has
been exacerbated by recent events such
as “mad cow” disease, the poultry u
pandemic, etc. (p. 427). “e costs and
eciency of alternative organizational
and institutional answers in establishing
credible commitments are at stake” (p.
In Europe, food crises have
been especially acute in the meat sector
since the 1990s. Bovine spongiform
encephalopathy (BSE) struck in 1996,
followed by the dioxin crisis in Belgium
in 1999. Avian inuenza started in Hong
Kong and then moved to inland China and
Vietnam in 2005. e response to food
scares is a drop in food consumption, and
recovery is always incomplete (Böcker
and Hanf 2000). Aer the second crisis of
BSE in 1999, three years were necessary
for consumption to reach its previous
level, despite very low real risk. Industrial
production, as well as information
brought to light by scientic experts,
was made invalid by BSE (Allaire 2005).
Organic agriculture is not spared from
stigmatization. In 2011, Escherichiacoli
that developed from germinated seeds
produced in an organic farm caused
the death of 38 people in Germany. e
origin of the bacteria had been wrongly
attributed to Spanish cucumbers by
German food safety authorities, which
led to more than 500 million euros in
losses due to the drop in consumption
(Wollman and Briat 2011). In 2003, Korea
banned beef imports from the United
States because of BSE. In early 2006,
Korea and the United States resumed an
import protocol. is resulted in what
was considered as one of the biggest
anti-government demonstrations in two
Although it is less characterized
by “de-territorialization” than other
sectors, agriculture is being increasingly
driven by international food chains.
Internationalization and concentration
are observed in the sector of agricultural
inputs as well as retailing. ese processes
started to be documented in the 1990s
(Goodman and Watts 1997; Morgan,
Marsden, and Murdoch 2006). According
to Friedmann (1994, 272), the dominant

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