FDA has stated it will be relying on public-private partnerships for food safety and emerging topics such as intentional adulteration. Industry will be involved – and accountable – though the commitment is still undefined. In this evolution is the opportunity for all of us to help shape the compliance and prevention landscape. AFDO is a key partner in this evolution.
This is a follow-up review of the AFDO 2013 conference, where I presented on Food Fraud. AFDO (Association of Food and Drug Officials) is one of the most influential groups of public agency officials. The AFDO annual conference is an excellent way for the Federal agencies to communicate with the State and Local agency partners. During those interactions, FDA has been very vocal about Federal agencies working together with the States, as well as directly with companies or industry-led initiatives – the public-private partnership.
The AFDO conferences cover specific actions such as implementation of very technical food safety regulations, but also broader, future-looking strategies. The presentations and networking events create an opportunity for a lot of communication on the subjects.
The public-private partnership has been a common theme for FDA (as well as USDA). Broadly, Michael Taylor (FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods) continued to champion the importance of the Federal/ State/ Local interactions and the public-private partnerships. Beyond the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) implementation challenges, he emphasized that we all need to collaborate and take a systems approach to preventative controls. The public health threats will continue to evolve and expand, so we need to target all our efforts. He discussed a goal of not just more rapid confirmation of regulatory compliance, but focusing on the end result of really improving the protection of the food supply. “Genuine partnership” was a theme we’ve heard from him over the last year in his presentations at GFSI, the Food Safety Summit, and now most recently at AFDO.
The concept of “more collaboration” is a constant mantra of Government Accountability (GAO) reports and consumer groups. When considering that the US food market is over a trillion dollars, that is easier said than done. That said, it is my experience that organizations like AFDO, FDA and USDA — in public-private partnerships with groups like the Global Food Safety Initiative, the Institute for Food Technologists, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and others — are evolving how we all conduct our operations. Michael Taylor has also commented on (similar to previous comments by Elizabeth Hagen, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety) the need to adapt the way that agencies conduct inspections and implement the laws. The focus on prevention keeps coming up. Beyond preventative controls, he was interested in how we could incentivize compliance and focus more broadly on the goal…producing safe product.
There will be many challenges during this evolution. Auditor and inspector experience will be an important part of the equation. Fortunately, the food auditors or inspectors don’t need to be expert criminologists. But we do need to provide them with efficient and effective criteria to evaluate not only compliance but to really help protect our food supply. The path will be filled with different skill sets and procedures but we are moving together in the right direction. Working together in public-private partnerships will be a key to a successful journey. JWS.