The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), powered by The Consumer Goods Forum, hosted 200 industry and government leaders at briefings in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 16. At the top of the agenda was the alignment between GFSI and FSMA in the marketplace. The discussions highlighted the potential to better leverage GFSI for FSMA implementation, international business and enhanced food safety for consumers everywhere.
Expert speakers included executive speakers from Amazon, Cargill, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, Dole, McDonald’s, Mondelēz and Target. They presented 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 industry and government work towards the shared goal of safe food for consumers.
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 dialogue 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 now,” 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 food safety 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 leveling the playing field. GFSI has a role 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 amid 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 recognized by GFSI, can help food facilities meet or exceed regulatory food safety requirements and enable the CFIA to use the results of private 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 Benchmarking Requirements V7 and the U.S. FDA FSMA Preventive Controls Rule for Human Foods. “GFSI generally meets or exceeds all of the requirements in the FSMA preventative control rule,” he said. “In some cases, GFSI has requirements not reflected in FSMA.”
To the industry professionals in the room, he said, “Having a GSFI certification 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 from 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 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 planned prior to the next GFSI Global Food Safety Conference in spring 2017. Over 30 governments have already expressed their interest to join.