Marguerite and other veterinary medicine students applied their training to improving food safety in Vietnam.

My name is Marguerite – I’ve just finished my fourth and final year of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at the University of Melbourne. Final year involves a combination of hospital rotations and placements in external practices and organisations. Rotations are undertaken primarily at the University’s U-Vet veterinary hospital in Werribee. Placements can vary widely, depending on personal interest.

I completed a two-week veterinary development placement in Vietnam, along with three other students from my cohort. Completing the group was supervisor Dr David McGill, a Research Fellow in international animal agriculture at the University.

The focus of the placement was pigs, specifically in regard to food safety. Food-borne diseases are of major public health concern in Vietnam, with many disease outbreaks attributed to unsafe food practices. A frightening example of these unsafe food practices is the extent of salbutamol usage, a medication that opens up the airways in the lungs in humans and livestock, and is used to treat asthma.

At a small-holder pig farm in Hoa Binh province (Photo credit: FVAS/ David McGill)

Our group was hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), based in Hanoi. ILRI are active in food safety research in Vietnam, having spent the past five years investigating food safety risks along the pig value chain. ILRI is soon to commence a new project, called SafePORK (funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research), aimed at managing the risks previously identified.

Our group with ILRI staff at the ILRI office (Photo credit: ILRI/ Chi Nguyen)

The ILRI staff organised an excellent itinerary for our placement. We visited a wide range of research partners, including the Hanoi University of Public Health, the National Institute of Veterinary Research, Hanoi Medical University, Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry and the United Nations.

But trips to the field were the highlight, with visits to pig farms and a slaughterhouse in Hung Yen (Red Mekong Delta) and Hoa Binh (Northwest) provinces.

While in Hoa Binh province we had the opportunity to participate in a focus group discussion with local pig farmers. Of particular interest were some cultural aspects related to pork consumption, including the popularity of ‘warm’ pork which has never been refrigerated or frozen and a dish featuring raw pig blood. Speaking with the locals via a translator was a fantastic experience, including many laughs over a feast of locally raised pork and enjoying typical Vietnamese culture and hospitality.

Focus group discussion with pig farmers underway in Hoa Binh province (Photo credit: FVAS/ David McGill)

My placement in Vietnam was supported by an Asia Postgraduate Grant, part of the federal government Endeavour program that provides support for Australian students to study overseas as part of their Australian qualification. The placement has greatly enhanced my learning experience and desire to become involved in veterinary international development in the future.

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