Expanding public-private dialogue on food safety - GFSI

Picture: GFSI. It was sponsored by TraceGains and hosted by Morgan Lewis Bockius

Voluntary guidelines and government regulation have a role in protecting the food supply and public health, according to the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

GFSI, run by The Consumer Goods Forum, hosted industry and government in Washington DC earlier this month to align GFSI and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

GFSI can be used for FSMA implementation by offering regulators the possibility to use third-party certification as part of risk assessments and inform risk-based inspection activities.

“GFSI is complementary to the regulatory food safety efforts, and can contribute best-practice and food safety tools, while facilitating the work of government agencies as they evaluate how to best deploy limited resources,” a spokesman told us.

“Capability building is another example of putting the tools developed by the private sector, through GFSI, to the use of the public sector.

“The GFSI Global Markets Programme has already been leveraged by government and public-private partnerships for building food safety capacity in companies who lack or have underdeveloped food safety systems.”

Private and public sector cooperation

Speakers from Cargill, The Coca-Cola Company, Danone, Dole, McDonald’s, Mondelēz, Target and Wegmans addressed challenges in a changing food landscape and how each company has used the GFSI approach.

Discussions highlighted the potential of GFSI in FSMA implementation, international business and food safety for consumers.

Mike Robach, chair of the GFSI board and corporate VP at Cargill, said the sector is only as good as the weakest link.

“There is a lot going on in the marketplace today. The food system is more and more complex and change will never be slower than it is today.”

GFSI tools, from capacity building and guidance to the benchmarking requirements, are complementary to regulatory oversight and not a substitute for it, he added.

The private sector has developed tools within voluntary initiatives such as GFSI which could be used in the public sector to ensure food safety.

GFSI told us several speakers mentioned that science guides industry and government to the same place.

“As such, facilities that have already put in place a food safety plan following GFSI’s voluntary guidelines will wind up in the same place as FSMA requirements.

“Whether it’s voluntary guidelines, such as GFSI, or government regulation in the case of FSMA, both have a role in protecting the food supply and public health."

GFSI said its approach has enabled a move towards global harmonization of food safety practices as well as improved business efficiency in managing them.

This consensus on food safety management requirements translates into heightened transparency, mutual trust and streamlined compliance processes, such as third-party certification, it added.

The event was an opportunity to fill knowledge gaps on the role played by GFSI.

“It was also an opportunity to call attention to the expanding dialogue that GFSI is having with many governments. What’s next? We look forward to continuing these conversations in the coming months,” said the spokesman.

“What we are seeing is that the receptivity to public-private partnerships is increasing and that many governments are interested in working with the private sector on using third party certification as part of their risk assessments. 

“Canada, Mexico, Australia, Netherlands and US have all engaged with GFSI or expressed interest. Our understanding is that third-party certification will be raised with CODEX as well.”

All of the major schemes (including BRC, IFS, SQF and FSSC 22000) are performing gap assessments to ensure standards cover the requirements of FSMA.

GFSI has included requirements in the version 7 benchmarking document around auditor competence.  

Regulatory role

The presence of the US Food and Drug Administration, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, foreign embassies and other government agencies at the event showed expanding public-private dialogue and the increasing interest in a collaborative approach, said GFSI.

Regulatory agencies have responsibilities essential for ensuring compliance across the board and levelling the playing field.

GFSI’s 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.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it was regulating on rapidly-increasing import volume, expanding food safety threats and new processing methods, while meeting increasing consumer expectations.

It explained food safety reforms 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 regulatory requirements and enables the CFIA to use results of private certification to inform its risk-based inspection activities.

David Acheson, CEO and founder of The Acheson Group, said: “GFSI generally meets or exceeds all of the requirements in the FSMA preventative control rule. In some cases, GFSI has requirements not reflected in FSMA.

“Having a GSFI certification will put facilities in a good place for FSMA compliance. No doubt about it. The bottom line is that, when implemented, both GFSI and FSMA will protect the food supply to the same extent.”

Acheson showed results of a comparative analysis between the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements V7 and the US FDA FSMA Preventive Controls Rule for Human Foods.

This had previously been done for BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Issue 7 against the Preventative Controls for Human Food rule of FSMA.

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