GlobalGAP goes big in China

Published on
August 1, 2012

A state-led push in China toward acceptance of the Good Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standard could prove a boost for the GlobalGAP aquaculture accreditation system among Chinese seafood producers.

Speaking to SeafoodSource at a GFSI conference for Chinese retailers and food producers in Beijing, Nigel Garbutt, chairman of Global Partnership for Good Agricultural Practices (GlobalGAP) explained Chinese and GlobalGAP standards will be fully interchangeable by the end of this year, allowing Chinese seafood exporters direct access to GFSI scheme members overseas, including WalMart, Tesco and Carrefour.

Gorbett believes Chinese producers will ultimately opt for GlobalGAP above other certifications because it’s one of only seven codes granted equivalence by the GFSI — a project set up by an alliance of multinational retailers and food companies to collaborate on standards and thus increase efficiencies among suppliers.

Another GFSI-recognized standard is the Global Aquaculture Alliance seafood processing standard. GFSI has expanded in China, having been embraced by state-owned food retail and distribution giants like China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corp. (COFCO) and China Resources, parent company of the Vanguard supermarket chain. Both firms have vowed to improve food safety and supply chain efficiencies.

GlobalGAP launched the ChinaGAP standard in February 2009. Uniquely, GlobalGAP has allowed its China domestic certification scheme to be managed by a government-run group there.

ChinaGAP has been overseen since 2003 by the Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA), the state body administering certification and accreditation activities across the country. Any export-orientated certifications for Chinese producers are processed centrally by GlobalGAP. Other schemes active in China demand the same standards and mechanisms for certification regardless of whether the Chinese firms concerned are driven by domestic or export.

Garbutt believes Chinese firms will continue a stepped approach, with Chinese producers first securing a ChinaGAP certification before moving to GlobalGAP, allowing both smaller and large-scale aquaculture operators to get certification.

“We have 50 retailers signed up to the scheme and they want the same, single standards everywhere,” said Garbutt.

GlobalGAP-certified agriculture and aquaculture tonnage out of China has increased fourfold in the past five years, according to Garbutt. To secure ChinaGAP certification, aquaculture operators must cut use of agricultural chemicals and medications while safeguarding against pollution of water supplies. Implementation is assessed by independent third-party auditors. Garbutt plans to recruit "super auditors" to check on the work of auditors in China and across Asia to cope with what he expects as a surge in activity.

Products produced in ChinaGAP-certified farms are labeled as such. ChinaGAP standards for the aquaculture sector now include an overarching aquaculture standard as well as 15 codes for fish species like tilapia and carp as well as shrimp, crabs and turtles. Modeled on the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) guidelines published by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), GlobalGAP now claims to be the world's most widely implemented farm certification scheme since being established in the late 1990s as a common standard for farm management practice by several European supermarket chains and their major suppliers.

In response to consumer demands for traceability, GlobalGAP plans to have Chinese aquaculture producers use a QR code that allows consumers in supermarket aisles worldwide to track seafood back to the original producer.

“We are not just a logo, we are a full traceability system,” said Garbutt of the QR code that was showcased at this year’s European Seafood Exposition.

GlobalGAP also sees itself as facilitating a long-term sustainability mark for Chinese exporters, he adds. GAP cooperates with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) though the latter is still an “aspirational” standard for many producers in China. However, in the long term, noted Garbutt, sustainable aquaculture “will not be a niche, it will be mainstream.” Garbutt sees GAP paving the way for eventual adaption of ASC standards.

Certification matters to China, which produced almost 55 million metric tons of seafood products (farmed and wild) valued at USD 21.7 billion in 2011 (compared to USD 17.2 billion in 2010), according to Chinese data. Farmed product accounted for 75 percent of overall production in 2011. Japan was the top export destination in 2011, buying USD 2.8 billion worth of product, followed by the United States at USD 2.1 billion and Korea  at USD 1.1 billion, while Germany (USD 405 million) and Spain (USD 332 million) represented the top two EU markets.

China’s lack of stringent rules, meanwhile, is a draw for Asian producers. Southeast Asian export nations are increasingly drawn to China as an export destination because of the relative absence of certification systems required in Western markets, according to Simon Funge Smith, Asia fisheries officer at the FAO. 

Chinese retailers have been seeking to cut compliance costs and improve food-safety standards by adopting international best practice and schemes like GFSI. Hong Liang, head of quality control at Vanguard, a state-owned supermarket chain with 400 outlets in southern China, says her chain of supermarkets is demanding suppliers apply for GFSI in order to reduce recalls at Vanguard stores.

“We are offering training to suppliers and encourage them to adapt GFSI,” said Liang.

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