Home' Partners : Partners Issue One 2014 Contents By DR WenDy HenDeRsOn
ood-borne disease is a major public
health issue in Vietnam and other
developing countries. In addressing
food safety, a balance must be achieved
between supplying the population
with safe food and protecting the smallholder
producers from unreasonable costs of doing so.
Contamination of popular foods in Vietnam,
such as pork and vegetables, can occur all
along the food value chain—anywhere
from farm to fork. But just because a harmful
substance or organism is present in food it does
not necessarily mean it will cause illness. It is
important to understand how and where the
real food safety issues arise to work out the best
options to prevent food-borne disease.
In Vietnam, risk assessment (RA) is emerging
as a useful and innovative approach to manage
food safety. This approach assesses the potential
harm from disease-causing organisms or
substances in food and estimates the likelihood
that this harm will actually occur, all along the
food pathway. It then identifies the critical
points and management strategies that need to
be applied to eliminate or minimise the risk.
The theory of RA is all well and good, but
in Vietnam there is a lack of local capacity
to apply it. The need is urgent, especially
for Vietnam’s many wet markets, which are
informal and unregulated.
Enter the RA task force for food safety, a
new initiative to strengthen local capacity. The
task force is bringing RA experts together with
representatives from the ministries of health,
agriculture and rural development. Through this
connection, policymakers and implementers
are gaining a better understanding of why RA
is useful and how it can be used to effectively
manage food safety.
One such expert is Dr Hung Nguyen-Viet,
a scientist from the International Livestock
Research Institute (ILRI) and deputy director
of the Center for Public Health and Ecosystem
Research at the Hanoi School of Public
Health. He initiated the RA task force and is
coordinating an ACIAR project using RA to
reduce disease risk and improve food safety in
smallholder pig value chains in Vietnam, being
implemented by ILRI and Vietnamese partners.
Dr Nguyen-Viet was also a recipient of
ACIAR’s John Dillon Fellowship of 2014, awarded
to agricultural research managers at the
forefront of their field. The Australian Minister
for Foreign Affairs, The Hon. Julie Bishop MP,
presented him with his award in March this year.
“Research on the pork value chain has
highlighted hot spots for disease control,” Dr
Nguyen-Viet says. “For instance, it found that
slaughterhouses are a major contamination
point, particularly for the food-poisoning
bacteria Salmonella. “
The most common culprit for spreading
these bacteria is the workers’ hands. This
information suggests a good starting
point for management would be to target
slaughterhouse workers’ hygiene practices
(e.g. emphasising hand washing) to reduce the
risks of Salmonella poisoning.
The studies by ILRI have also brought
surprises along the way. Analyses of pork sold
in supermarkets and wet markets found that
meat is often more highly contaminated in
supermarkets. This is most likely because meat
tends to sit on supermarket shelves longer
before sale, allowing bacteria to multiply (even
in refrigeration). The result has changed the
mindset on the perceived riskiness of wet
markets versus supermarkets.
Another study of household cooking and
eating habits in Hanoi revealed that people’s
food-preparation methods put them at risk of
spreading contamination from raw pork to other
foods. But since it is extremely difficult to change
the behaviour of millions of meal-makers, the
best interventions to improve this situation
should be made before consumers even buy
their meat. Dr Nguyen-Viet says interventions
should also be incentive-based for different
stakeholders involved in the pork value chain.
Dr Nguyen-Viet’s research is providing
invaluable evidence and insights to inform pork
safety policy and practices in Vietnam. Further
research will be needed to assess health-related
risks in other important foods and identify the
best options to manage them. Lessons learned
will be useful not only to Vietnam, but also
to other similar countries. Using RA is going
to have a significant impact on the health of
millions of people. n
aciar project: lps/2010/047
more information: http://pigrisk.wikispaces.com
PARTNERS Issue One 2014
Mixed-breed pig in a Lao village.
Healthy pigs, healthy people
in many developing countries, free-ranging
animals live closely with people resulting in
some villagers contracting zoonotic diseases
(diseases that can affect both humans and
animals). an aciar project in lao pdr
recently found that zoonotic worms in pigs
are particularly common in some villages.
These include Taenia solium, a tapeworm
that can cause significant brain damage in
people and several gastrointestinal worms
that consume vital nutrients and contribute
to a range of nutritional deficiencies, which
can be especially detrimental to children.
The project team, which includes staff
from the lao ministry of health and the
department of livestock and fisheries,
embarked on a mass drug administration to
treat the worms in pigs and people in one
of the villages. Two rounds of treatment
have been completed and early monitoring
suggests that the number of worms present
among villagers has significantly decreased.
several villagers that were interviewed have
reported feeling much better.
ongoing monitoring will further assess
health and nutrition benefits. The team is
also investigating other risk factors that
may contribute to the high levels of worm
infection, including the cultural practice of
consuming raw pork.
– emma Zalcman
aciar project: ah/2009/001
A pork vendor at the wet market sells her meat to
two local women, Hung yen province, Vietnam.
(From left) Dr Hung nguyen-Viet visiting a dairy farm in
Wagga Wagga, new south Wales, with two other John
Dillon Fellows, Dr Hassan Warriach (from Pakistan) and
Dr yingun Zhang (from China).
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