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After four years as director of GFSI, I am proud to be able to welcome the GFSI Conference to my home country for the first time during my term. From my director’s seat, I have watched GFSI grow at an unprecedented rate. We now work with more companies, governments, certification programmes than ever before, and an even larger group of stakeholders is eager to learn how they can become involved.

The conference in France will kick off with a session geared towards initiating these newcomers to the mission and actions of GFSI. This opening session, titled GFSI & You, will also update the 80% of delegates who attend every year on movements GFSI has made since the last conference. This year, those updates will introduce delegates to an initiative on the brink of a historic moment: our actions now will decide the future of the rapidly-evolving organisation.

Gaining global recognition

GFSI has seen tremendous progress in the last few years and is in a better place than ever, as highlighted by the GFSI Board of Directors. As our food network becomes more globalised and interconnected, we have seen a shift towards greater transparency and integrity as consumers are awakened to issues of food safety and traceability. With this has come a recognition that we cannot build a safer and more efficient food supply chain without the support of local and national public partners. Utilising our collective resources, industry stakeholders and governments can work more effectively together to ensure that there are safeguards in place along the entire value chain, from origination to the end consumer.

Growing participation in the annual Government to Business (G2B) meeting is proof that national public partners from around the globe recognise the value of the GFSI approach to complement their food safety regulatory frameworks via third-party certification. For the past several years, GFSI has been partnering with countries from all over the world, including the USA, Chile, Argentina, Japan, China, the Netherlands and Mexico. Public partners see the role of GFSI in this work as supplementing compliance with national and international food safety regulation by reducing food safety risks and delivering equivalence and convergence between effective food safety management systems. GFSI is forming a bridge between the public and private leaders in support of our vision of safe food for consumers everywhere.

In this spirit of collaboration, GFSI is working increasingly with our counterparts, such as CODEX. GFSI has been at the center of several CODEX discussions to bring together international principles and guidelines for the assessment and use of voluntary third-party assurance programmes by National Food Control Systems, one of the most impactful decisions in the world of food safety this year.We are also delighted to be partnering with STDF and the World Bank’s IFC and GFSP branches and see them pointing to the value of GFSI programmes in their own recommendations for food safety capability building.

Implementing global strategy at a local level

As GFSI increases its global reach and relevance, we must also deepen our local roots. A holistic, regionalised approach allows us to create meaningful impacts in every market we enter, including emerging markets that currently lack access to the food safety systems that the developed world enjoys; we must not assume that people in lower-income countries can tolerate a lower standard of food safety. GFSI stakeholders hail from over 50 countries, but when it comes to food safety we speak the same language.

Our Global Markets Programme, a step-by-step capability building curriculum, has never before enjoyed such broad implementation, thanks in part to GFSI’s collaboration with national agencies and IGOs around the globe. This is helping more companies grow their food safety systems, access new markets and foster heightened confidence in the food supply chain.

Our Local Groups are an essential element of our mission to implement global strategy at a regional level. The groups are comprised of industry experts who have an ingrained awareness of the food safety challenges particular to their location, whether they hail from local producers or the regional branches of multinational manufacturers. Together, these experts support GFSI’s objective to share knowledge and promote a harmonised approach to managing food safety across geographies.

GFSI Local Groups operate in Japan, China, Europe, the US and Canada, Mexico and South Latam. With the recent participation of Australia and New Zealand, GFSI Local Groups now represent seven regions key to the global food chain. This is far from critical mass for the project. The interest of stakeholders from underrepresented regions such as Africa and Asia, as well as their enthusiastic participation at GFSI Conferences, illustrate the expansive potential of the Local Groups.

Paving the way forward

Another arm of GFSI’s strategy towards multi-stakeholder collaboration is our Technical Working Groups. These groups bring together technical experts from industry, academia and beyond, who gather around a specific issue — from food safety culture to chemicals in food hygiene — for a brief eighteen months to deliver targeted solutions. We sometimes have hundreds of applications for these groups, but each can accommodate only 25 seats, a cap that is as frustrating for us as it is for the would-be participants. We therefore plan to create more Technical Working Groups focused on the broader range of issues affecting the food industry today and in the future. As always, we give priority to issues where collaboration is essential and where GFSI can make a unique contribution.

The solutions developed by the Technical Working Groups join the annals of the GFSI Library, a wealth of open-source information that anyone interested in building their food safety knowledge can access. Already highly anticipated on the library are the additions of the updated Global Markets Programme, as well as the upcoming Benchmarking Requirements version 8, which will be reviewed throughout 2019. Even as GFSI evolves beyond the role of benchmarking, we continue the work of recognition through benchmarking to collaboratively raise the bar on food safety.

As I take stock of the changes I have watched GFSI undergo during my time as director, a clear theme emerges. Every branch of GFSI is growing larger, stronger, and more intertwined with the others. This year, GFSI will gain more Local Groups, more Technical Working Groups, more recognised CPOs, and even more board members.

Please join me at GFSI & You during the GFSI Conference to welcome this expanding community, as well as the numerous new delegates in the crowd, to the ever-growing project of GFSI.

This post was written and contributed by:

Véronique Discours-Buhot
GFSI Director
The Consumer Goods Forum


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