Experts speakers included executive speakers from Amazon, Cargill, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, Dole, McDonald's, Mondelēz, Target, and Wegmans took the stage to speak to current challenges in a rapidly-changing food landscape and how each company has benefited from working within the GFSI approach. Food safety leaders called attention to the strong alignment of GFSI and FSMA. The private sector has developed robust tools within voluntary initiatives such as GFSI, which could be put to the service of the public sector, as both industry and government work towards the shared goal of safe food for consumers.
Collaborating to Achieve Shared Goals
The presence of government representatives from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, foreign embassies and other government agencies was a strong testament to the expanding public-private dialog and the increasing interest in a collaborative approach.
"There is a lot going on in the market place today. The food system is more and more complex and change will never be slower than it is today," said Mike Robach, Chair of the GFSI Board and Corporate Vice President, Cargill. "We are only as good as our weakest link and it is important that we operate seamlessly around the world. We want to bring everyone along the food safety journey."
GFSI as Partner for FSMA Implementation and Harmonization
GFSI tools, from capability building and guidance to the world's most widely-recognized food safety benchmarking requirements, are complementary to regulatory oversight, not a substitute for it, Robach stressed. Regulatory agencies have regulatory responsibilities, which are essential for ensuring compliance across the board and levelling the playing field. Where GFSI has a role is to supplement these efforts, contribute best-practice and food safety tools, while facilitating the work of agencies as they evaluate how to best deploy limited resources.
"There are real opportunities for us as regulators to work with the industry and leverage what you are doing for the good of all consumers," said a top representative of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). He shared insights into the challenges of regulating rapidly-increasing import volume amidst expanding food safety threats and new food processing methods, all while meeting increasing consumer expectations. He explained food safety reforms in Canada under the Safe Food for Canadians Act and the CFIA Private Certification Policy. The policy acknowledges that third-party certification schemes, such as those recognised by GFSI, can help food facilities meet or exceed regulatory food safety requirements. They also enable the CFIA to use the results of third party certification to inform its risk-based inspection activities.
GFSI Meets or Exceeds FSMA Requirements
David Acheson, CEO and Founder of The Acheson Group and former Associate Commissioner for Foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, revealed the results of a comparative analysis carried out between the GFSI and FSMA Preventive Controls Rule for Human Foods. "GFSI generally meets or exceeds all of the requirements in the FSMA preventative control rule," he stated. "In some cases, GFSI has requirements not reflected in FSMA."
To the industry professionals in the room, he said, "Having a GSFIcertification will put facilities in a good place for FSMA compliance. No doubt about it!" He concluded by saying, "The bottom line is that, when implemented, both GFSI and FSMA will protect the food supply to the same extent."
GFSI Leading an Expanding Global Conversation
"GFSI is an example of partnering to do something that no single company could do alone..." said GFSI Chair Mike Robach, quoting Bob Johansen and Karl Ronn in the book "The Reciprocity Advantage: A New Way to Partner for Innovation & Growth." "It is massive reciprocity on a global scale."
More than anything, these Washington D.C. GFSI briefings, sponsored by TraceGains and hosted by Morgan Lewis Bockius, served to demonstrate the great potential of public-private collaboration for food safety, with these discussions representing great strides toward a collaborative approach. The GFSI conversation with governments is building momentum, with dedicated meetings for government and industry being planned ahead of the next GFSI Global Food Safety Conference in spring 2017. Over 30 governments have already expressed their interest to join.