This is a live review of our attendance at the GFSI Conference here in Tokyo. The increased international food safety challenges – combined with constrained or reduced financial allocations – are driving the role of regulators to evolve. The role of the public-private partnership (Note 1) is leading to more efficient systems and safer food, worldwide. The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) (Note 2) is a very active and widely implemented industry program and certification.
The key insight for Food Fraud prevention implementation is building upon – and calibrating to – the current food safety standard operating procedures and standards. For other industries that are starting to address – or struggling with current programs – product fraud there is a best practice to build upon other systems.
The very broad and international assembly of panelists included: World Trade Organization (WTO, Spreij), GFSI/ Nestle (Huggett), GFSI/ Cargill (Robach), Codex Alimentarius (WHO/FAO, Heilandt), Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIE, Mayers), US FDA (Ostroff), and Food Standards Agency UK (Ainsworth).
Several key comments include:
- Public-Private Partnership: There is universal regulatory interest in the expanded public-private partnership… but also with a healthy caution or skepticism. There is an interest in advancing the engagement, but not without ongoing evaluation.
- Codex Alimentarius (Note 3): Codex has continued to evolve and advance, including expanding the focus to emerging issues such as Food Fraud and electronic commerce. GFSI programs focus on aligning with international standards such as Codex and ISO.
- FDA/Ostroff: A series of quotes included: We all have a mutual interested in industry selling safe foods and as a regulator we are certainly supportive of anything that helps lead to that goal. For anybody that uses third party audits it is away to increase product quality. We [FDA] would certainly see [industry standards] as beneficial. As many know, in FSMA there is a very prominent role for third party audits. Without question the use of private audits is certainly a very, very positive way to increase food safety.
- Canada/ CFIE/Mayer: A series of quotes included: We see a company’s commitment to food safety culture as the single most important predictor of reduced supply chain risk. Also, the private assurance programs (e.g., food safety standards and certifications) contribute tremendous value to build upon the work of the regulators.
- GFSI/ Robach: A series of quotes included: Not all third party certifications are of the same quality or consistency. We [GFSI] stay grounded in the principles of Codex and others. We need to make sure we’re not doing things that countermand or undermine those standards.
- How to get industry to be able to share more with regulators: A series of quotes included: We are living in an era where information is the currency of our time.” Overall there was discussion about the amazing opportunities that are still evolving including blockchain, whole genome sequencing, traceability, and others. “We do still need to have dialog and discussion to understand how [information technology] it can be used in a beneficial way.”
The GFSI panelists recognize that getting to the full certification is often not easy. There has been a commitment to expand the training and also increase the realization that companies – even small or very small businesses – may be able to expand their market access. There have been many efforts by GFSI to increase the access to training, including work led by other MSU colleagues (Note 4).
As GFSI has evolved, the development and harmonization of “terminology” has been an ongoing challenge. For example, there was some objection to referring to a standard as a “scheme.” Even though it is the term used by Codex in some regions, the term “scheme” was more associated with deviant behavior or “scams.” Another discussion is around the term “private standard” changing more to “certifications” or “guiding principles.” GFSI/Robach was very clear that GFSI is not a standard – GFSI/Huggett stated that “we all want harmonized standards including terminology.”
The overall recognition and trust of industry food safety standards is an important trend. Industry is taking their role seriously to earn and retain the trust of the regulators. Food Fraud prevention is grafted into and building upon that infrastructure. This is one of the most important insights and best practices helping Food Fraud to a wide-spread, harmonized, and standardized approach by the public-private partnership. MSU-FFI
Note (1): The international public food-related standards are: Codex Alimentarius for human food (Codex) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Note (2): The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is an organization of food companies with a mission to create a harmonized, standardized food safety management system. GFSI reportedly is adopted by 65+% of the world food trade so the implementation is very broad. The GFSI conference here in Tokyo included over 1200 attendees from over 50 countries. Our MSU Food Fraud Initiative has been involved in the GFSI Food Fraud Task Force and presenting at GFSI conferences over the years including moderating this year in the Food Fraud session. The GFSI creates the overall expectation in their Benchmarking Document Version 7.2 that is implemented in standards such Certification Program Organizations (CPOs) as FSSC 22000, SQF, BRC, IFS, and others. Manufacturers adopt the standards and then are audited for certification by Certification Bodies (CBs). GFSI has been working to be acknowledged or achieving “equivalency” with some country laws. As of January 2018 the GFSI requires – it is not optional – companies to implement a (1) Food Fraud Vulnerability Assessment, (2) Food Fraud Prevention Strategy, and to make sure to (3) address the “relevant GFSI scope” as defined by GFSI in the Benchmarking document on the GFSI Position Paper on Food Fraud.
Note (3): Efforts include our MSU colleagues Dr. Les Borquin and Dr. Deepa Thiagarajan conducting international training, especially to small and medium sized businesses.
Note (4): Codex Alimentarius (Codex) is the “world food code” managed jointly by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). There are 188 member countries that are represented by their government-appointed delegates. While Codex is not a law, the practices are often adopted by countries as their laws. Codex is an important international collaboration point for creating harmonization and standardized practices. Our MSU Food Fraud Initiative has been active with the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Certification and Inspection Systems (CCFICS) committee that has an active Electronic Working Group.