15 June 2015 – food safety and processed food

There is an article in the Financial Times (Amy Kazim 13 June 2015) about food safety concerns in some processed foods produced and sold in India by multinationals. These have emerged after India’s food safety authorities ordered Nestlé’s Maggi noodles (a favourite ‘comfort’ food in India) off shop shelves after tests showed some packets had lead levels above permissable limits.

Concerns about lead – and other toxins – also extend to contaminated water supplies where tests have shown dangerous levels of pesticide residues on vegetables sold in open markets. Ravi Agarwal, founder of NGO Toxics Link, says that the clean-up must extend beyond the end product to an overhaul of how food is grown and marketed.

You can read more about the Maggi noodles case here


7 April 2015 – World Health Day

It’s WHO World Health Day and the focus is on food safety. There is plenty going on – you can take a food safety quiz here – or you could read about research conducted by ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute) on food safety and women in informal markets who say that:

Traditional markets are particularly important for women. For example, in most African countries, the majority of street food processors and vendors are women, while the majority of customers are men. As well as being one of the few livelihood strategies open to poor women, the street food sector is of great importance to the economy.

27 November 2014 – Food safety in everyday life: shopping for fresh food on wet-markets in rural Vietnam

There is a new study by Sigrid Wertheim-Heck and colleagues about how Vietnamese consumers are making decisions about where they buy fresh vegetables and how they factor in the role of food safety (you can read it here).

Food safety is a major social and political issue in Vietnam, with government authorities discouraging wet-markets and supporting modernization of the food retail system through the development of supermarkets. However, wet markets remain the main place to buy fresh food in provincial cities and, as has been noted previously on this blog (see 18 April 2014), trust between traders and shoppers remains a crucial part of the trading exchange.

The choice of wet-market for the shoppers interviewed in this study was based on convenience for their habitual daily shopping for fresh vegetables (which they tend to do on foot) and food safety concerns (connected to pesticide residues etc.) are alleviated by shopping with the same small-scale local traders every day who they trust and who have direct links with production. This, the authors conclude, is a major reason why shoppers continue to favour the wet-market – they avoid having to use the ‘concrete skills and knowledge’ that is required when making decisions in the supermarket where there is only a label to trust.

The authors also note that, ‘to understand modernization processes, it is important to study traditions… [and this provides] essential clues for understanding why traditional trust relations survive under the increasing threats and anxieties generated by food-safety scandals’. The particular cultural context, with its long established and culturally embedded history, plays an important role in what is happening as traditional food provisioning systems jostle for position alongside the growth of supermarkets, and the authors conclude that the future may bring a kind of hybridization of traditional and modern food retailing where wet-markets remain, but policies supporting food safety become a more implicit part of vegetable provisioning through the market system. This could be effective, but as Christopher Mele and colleagues point out in an article about Singapore’s more modern wet-markets (see this blog 6 March 2014) other factors are also important for why people want to keep their markets; they note that ‘given the massive scale and rapid pace of contemporary urban redevelopment and accompanying social change, the collective attachment to wet markets anchors Singaporeans and provides a fragile basis for consistency and stability. In Singapore you don’t go the supermarket ‘to hang out!’ like you can on wet markets; they are viewed as a ‘social equaliser’.