Following the 2nd Greater Mekong Sub-region Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting (GMS AMM-2) in Siem Reap, Cambodia in September 2017, a lab capacity-building initiative was launched by Food Industry Asia (FIA) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to address the inability of many developing countries to test for food contaminants of trade impact concerns, such as aflatoxins, pesticides and veterinary drug residues. Testing forms an essential part of the verification process to ensure food safety controls are effective and are being employed. This initiative also aims to improve the technical competence of food safety management and detection practices throughout the food supply chain.
The lack of verification results in a loss of trust in the supply chain and lack of cross-recognition of certificates of analysis, which in turn can devalue the commodities and close some export markets. This FIA-ADB initiative aims to prevent that from happening. The lack of analytical capacity prevents health authorities from evaluating the exposure of their population to contaminants, participation in discussions on Codex standards and enter new trade channels. This could also lead to the adoption of limits that are unrealistic for the country and that can become non-tariff trade barriers leading to trade disruption.
Through the multi-stakeholder partnership, FIA is committed to support the six GMS countries – Cambodia, China, specifically Yunnan province and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam – in building capacity and strengthening food safety systems across the region.
Opening speech by Dr Dubois for the laboratory capacity building training week in Can Tho City
Phases 1 & 2 of the project has been completed, the former focusing on training in methods of determination for mycotoxins held in December 2017, and the latter concentrating on training of the trainers, held in February 2018. Both sessions took place at the Waters Cooperation Lab in Singapore.
Phase 3 will commence with an in-country pilot and will take place from 8-12 October in Vietnam. It will revolve around reproducing the training that they have undergone in Singapore and will be held in the National Agro Forestry-Fisheries Quality Assurance Department (NAFIQAD) Laboratory in Can Tho City, Vietnam. This pilot will be attended by 12 government scientists from various locations in Vietnam and co-funded by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD).
Analyst using Vicam rapid test to check for mycotoxins during the laboratory capacity building training week
“The innovative concept and method of the training, which has been successfully piloted in regional countries and based on both advanced knowledge developed and transferred by international experts and meeting requirements of national practical operating functions, received strong support from the Vietnamese Government. Improvement of its currently limited laboratory testing capacity will contribute significantly to deal with food safety control and is key to help the country’s agro-foods to link with regional and global value chains in a sustainable manner”, said Le Truong Son, National Secretariat Specialist for Vietnam from GMS Core Agriculture Support Program under ADB.
The goal of the third phase is to create groups of skilled trainers who can transfer their learnings in their own organisations and for them to become trainers themselves on new food safety techniques. The third phase will be led by the newly-trained scientists from Vietnam, and they will be supported by Dr. Janie Dubois, an academic expert from the International Food Safety Training laboratory (IFSTL). The pilot will serve as a basis for the upscaling of a number of scientists on aflatoxin testing and analysis in all the GMS countries.
Analysts preparing samples for UPLC-FLD
Dr Dubois shared that the food industry in Vietnam is on a very steep path of growth and the regulatory authorities understand the importance of the risk analysis cycle, which requires using laboratory testing as a verification of a successful food safety system. Investments in technology are progressing well so it is the perfect time to train the scientists and analysts. She added that the aim of this multi-phase program is “to educate on fit-for-purpose methods of analysis, but also to create a network of analysts who understand both the science and the trade requirements at play, which are both important to select methods and to participate in international conversations such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the APEC and other relevant fora.” By joining the IFSTL network, Dr Dubois is confident these scientists and technicians will benefit from a large network of peers that can support the implementation of new methods and become a resource for the region.
The capacity building for the additional training of scientists in all the GMS countries will be supported by ensuring technical assistance of the ADB to assist in the implementation of the newly-endorsed GMS Strategy and Siem Reap Action Plan for 2018-2022. This initiative was sponsored by the ADB, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), FIA, and Waters Cooperation. Nestle provided in-kind contributions to Phase 2.
Collaboration across the public and private sector offers the best chance for successful and sustainable food safety capacity building efforts. With the combined effort of sponsors and contributors, FIA is committed to the development of food safety management systems. Knowledge exchange through capacity building initiatives plays an important role in building expertise & trust in the efficacy of lab testing. We believe that this initiative is the first of many potential training activities that will take place in the GMS.