Pangasius first for Boston
Vietnam’s first fully integrated and GlobalGAP-certified pangasius farming and processing operation will be featured at a special conference to be held in the Westin Hotel alongside next month’s International Boston Seafood Show.
The aptly named Green Farms Seafoods has full, independently audited control of the fish from the egg right through to the finished product — IQF skinless, boneless fillets, which are exported mostly to the United States but also to Europe.
Pangasius, commonly known as “swai” in the United States, is becoming ever more popular with consumers there. Last year, the United States became the biggest market for the farmed catfish species produced in Vietnam, taking over from the European Union. In 2011, America imported USD 331.6 million worth of pangasius fillets, a massive 87.8 percent increase from the previous year.
The CEO of Green Farms Seafoods is a young entrepreneur called Quang Tang, who farms pangasius in Chau Doc province in the northwest corner of the Mekong Delta near the Cambodian border. Here, the River Hau is rich in oxygen and the area is not as densely populated as it is in other parts of the region, so rearing and environmental conditions are ideal for aquaculture.
Tang persuaded a group of pangasius farmers to join him and together they have formed the Green Farms Union. He paid for each farm to become certified by GlobalGAP, which is one of the most internationally recognized and respected quality assurance system operating in aquaculture today.
Green Farms Union has 150 hectares of ponds for farming pangasius so has guaranteed quantities of the fish — about 5,000 tons — which is now in short supply in Vietnam, to process.
The feed fed to Green Farms’ fish is also certified by GlobalGAP, and the cooperative has purchased its own hatchery so that the broodstock used to produce the eggs for juveniles to grow on are certified as well. Hatcheries that serve the pagasius farming community in Vietnam are state-owned, so this was a necessary step to ensure that the juveniles put into Green Farms’ ponds are part of the GlobalGAP system.
The final step in the chain was to ensure that processing was carried out according to the good manufacturing practice specified by GlobalGAP. Green Farms Union has therefore partnered with major processors who made the necessary investment to upgrade their factories to comply with GlobalGAP requirements. The cooperative even employs its own quality control staff to work in the processing plants to double check that its standards are met.
To ensure that all stages in the chain from egg to frozen fillet are fully compliant with recognized international standards is a costly business. An investment of up to USD 30,000 per farm site is required just to introduce the first stages of GlobalGAP.
However, in the United States, as in Europe, consumers expect farmed fish to have been produced according to clearly defined quality regulations and sound ecological standards, particularly pangasius from Vietnam, about which there has been so much adverse publicity. Therefore, big supermarket and foodservice chains are insisting that farming and processing operations are independently certified.
Green Farms Seafoods has taken this scenario one step further by linking all the stages of the production cycle together and certifying each and every one.
Pangasius has the potential to become an even greater source of reasonably priced “whitefish” than it already is. But to do so all sectors of the Vietnamese industry must work together to ensure that their product has a “squeaky clean” image. The fully integrated and certified operation put together by Green Farms Seafoods could well become a blueprint for the Vietnamese pangasius industry in the future.