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Ensuring food safety in Asian domestic markets: through proximity or standards?

Moustier P.. 2012. In : 6èmes Journées de recherches en sciences sociales SFER-INRA-CIRAD. Paris : SFER, 23 p.. Journées de recherches en sciences sociales. 6, 2012-12-13/2012-12-14, Toulouse (France).

The growing distrust of consumers in the safety of food is widely documented in both developed and transitional economies. This is related to the growing intensification or even industrialisation of food production and processing as well as to the growing distances between food production and food consumption sites. Additionally, farmers commonly complain of the increasing marketing power of modern distribution, which sometimes imposes unfavourable terms of exchange and discourages efforts in terms of quality assurance. In the literature, proximity between producers and consumers-be it geographical or relational (the two being partially related)-is said to be advantageous to transactions and food safety assurance in various respects. Geographical proximity is economically efficient in a perishable commodity supply chain compared to more distant supplying areas. Regular interaction between producers and consumers and between sellers and buyers in general promotes trust, the sharing of information, as well as joint investment and risk-taking, with a sense of responsibility on both sides. An alternative to proximity is standardisation and certification, but these processes generate costs that are difficult for small-scale farmers to bear. On the other hand, literature is increasingly challenging the so-called superiority of proximity over distance as regards food chain sustainability and food safety. When distant supplying areas are characterised by specialisation and large-scale production, this may result in economies of scale and lower costs in terms of production and transport. Trust cannot circumvent all risks of moral hazards; regular interaction combined with some form of control and certification is desirable, even if based only on some minimal documentation process. We illustrate the advantages and drawbacks of proximity versus standards, or proximity combined with standards, by some cases of vegetable safety control in Vietnam. The comparison relates to the nature of trust, the cost, and the farmers' interest in the different mechanisms of control. The data is drawn from the author's work in Vietnam in various research and development projects, including surveys of consumers, traders and farmers involved in the development of vegetable quality. The paper concludes with recommendations in terms of research. These include a more rigorous impact assessment of alternative marketing strategies to determine how trust and food safety can be strengthened. Identifying conditions for further enhancement of success stories in terms of quality development involving small-scale farmers is also crucial, which implies a more thorough investigation of the links between mass and niche markets for horticultural products. (Résumé d'auteur)

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