|Fruit and vegetables on sale at Dich Vong Market in Ha Noi's Cau Giay District. Concerns over the quality of such products have led many in the city to seek supplies from relatives and acquaintances in rural areas. — VNA/VNS Photo The Duyet
by To Nhu
HA NOI (VNS) — Tran Thi Huong, a resident in Ha Noi's Trung Yen apartment building, seldom visits the market to buy food like other housewives in the city.
Instead, she orders food from her hometown in central Nghe An Province. Every two weeks, Huong asks her relatives to send green vegetables, chicken and pork from their rural garden. She also asks her friend who lives near the beach to send her fresh seafood.
"It's made by my relatives so I always know the produce is fresh and safe," Huong said. "I feel totally secure in the quality of my ingredients, much more so than when I buy from the market".
Huong is among the many consumers following the growing trend of seeking fresh food from the countryside to sidestep their fears over the safety of food sold at city markets. Some get food sent from their hometowns, while other city dwellers venture out to order food at countryside farms.
Hoang Anh Tho, a Ha Noi Women's Union worker, said she and five colleagues usually ordered pork and vegetables from a farmer in northern Hoa Binh Province. Despite being a safer source, the food always costs VND10,000-30,000 (US$0.4-1.4) more than city market prices.
"We have to pay extra for shipment, and we have to buy the whole pig - weighing well over 10kg - meaning we freeze some of the meat and eat it later, but we feel fine as it is safe," she said.
Figures from the Ministry of Health's Food Safety and Hygiene Department showed there had been 108 cases of food poisoning so far in 2013, leaving 18 dead and hospitalising more than 2,800 others. The main causes were bacteria and toxic chemicals used in food preparation.
At a recent meeting, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said ‘dirty' foods such as vegetable carrying pesticides, contaminated meat and substandard slaughter techniques had become a difficult and time-consuming issue to resolve.
As a result, the sourcing of safe and clean food has been a chief concern for consumers. Hundreds of websites and forums selling food labelled ‘clean' and ‘made-in-the-countryside' have cropped up recently.
Some popular forums such as lamchame.com or webtretho.com are full of orders and comments from consumers, mostly women. Generally, sellers are office workers who offer specialised food from their hometown with guarantees of safety and hygiene.
Ngoc Yen, an online food seller, said she established her own website to sell food online for busy women after she bought countryside products for her family and feeling satisfied with their quality. The website brings her VND5-6 million ($235-282) each month in extra income.
However, Yen warned of the low-quality products some online traders labelled as ‘green' and ‘clean' to gain profit.
"Demand has been increasing day by day, while the clean food supply remains limited. Some people are simply exploiting this trend for profit," she said.
According to experts, to be able to legitimately label food as ‘clean', there are many criteria to satisfy. Clean food must be free from chemicals and properly grown or raised. Poultry and cattle must be slaughtered and preserved following best practice to ensure its freshness.
They advised consumers to buy food from reliable sites with stamps licensed by the authorities, as quality and safety controls for online foods remained loose.
The experts concluded that the ministry should boost production of clean food and strengthen food inspection to protect consumers' health. — VNS