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This blog post comes to us as a special joint message from the co-chairs of the GFSI Conference Committee, Frédéric René (Danone) and Pierre de Ginestel (Auchan).

2019 marks the first year since 2006 that the GFSI Conference will take place in France, the birthplace of the Global Food Safety Initiative, after travelling to locales as distant as Kuala Lumpur, Houston and Tokyo. We are honoured to serve as co-chairs for this historic homecoming.

Our own co-chair relationship reflects the multi-stakeholder nature of GFSI: as Quality Director at Auchan, Pierre experiences food safety through the lens of a retailer, while Frédéric is Chief Food Safety Officer at Danone, a manufacturer. Chairing the conference has allowed us to learn about each other’s perspectives, including how much we have in common. Both Auchan and Danone deal with suppliers, for example, and must maintain food safety up and downstream in the value chain.

Furthermore, to repeat our concluding remarks at last year’s conference in Tokyo: as you can hear from our accents, we are both French. We would like to bring a touch of that French accent to Nice this year, while maintaining the internationally relevant content that has come to define the GFSI Conference.

France is a logical venue for the GFSI Conference; few places have such an ingrained, codified passion for food. Cuisine is one the pillars of French culture, as UNESCO recognised when they inscribed the ‘gastronomic meal of the French meal of the French’ in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The French people seem born understanding an art de vivre — art of living — that informs everything they do with an intuitive concern for quality and pleasure, especially regarding matters of the table.

As one would expect of a country so concerned with food, some of the most important technological revolutions in food safety began in France. In the early nineteenth century the confectioner Nicolas Appert invented ‘appertisation’, a method of airtight food preservation that remains indispensable to industrial canners and home picklers alike. Decades later, Louis Pasteur gave us pasteurisation, which saved countless people from food poisoning, as well as once-pandemic diseases like tuberculosis and scarlet fever. France’s significant role in the 2000 formation of GFSI is part of the country’s long history of food safety innovation.

More recently, the spotlight has shifted from Europe to Asia and the Americas, where food safety management systems have developed rapidly in the eighteen years since GFSI began. Many exciting innovations have come from these regions as well, though France continues to push ahead with concepts such as the Nutri-Score, a front-of-pack labelling scheme that is revolutionary in its simplicity, and mobile applications like Alim’confiance, which tracks restaurant hygiene inspections.

Rather than resting on its nineteenth-century laurels, France can use the conference to bring itself back to the forefront of food safety. This collaborative platform is an opportunity for France and its European neighbours to regain the stage and take stock of new developments as well as needed updates. One of the central precepts of GFSI is the idea that food safety can be an enabler for innovation rather than a roadblock; the conference may thereby enable a revolution on the scale of pasteurisation.

Senior leaders on the stage

As you meet stakeholders and speakers from around the world at the conference, you may notice a distinct, yet never overpowering French aroma in the air. We aimed to add a French touch to the programme by including a number of French speakers, who will bring both their typical accents and their intimate knowledge of the all-informing art de vivre to the stage. One such speaker is Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse, who will discuss the importance of food safety in French cuisine and share an à la Française attitude towards managing the safety of food without forgoing flavour.

Another illustrious French speaker on the roster is Emmanuel Faber, the CEO of Danone. Emmanuel is one of GFSI’s most fervent believers; he is convinced that no business in the food industry can survive without placing a priority on food safety alongside nutrition and taste. He and Dirk Van de Put, the Belgian CEO of the American manufacturer Mondelez, will bring a leadership perspective to the conference that is crucial to the success of both the GFSI and the food industry.

Emmanuel and Dirk’s presence at GFSI is an encouraging sign for food safety culture in France and beyond. Truly cohesive culture requires the wholehearted participation of CEOs and other senior leaders. The growing number of CEOs who are actively involved in the GFSI recognise that food safety culture is a boon for business and a catalyst for innovation.


A platform for lively debate

If there is any social tradition more typically French than the repas gastronomique, it is the friendly debate. The French are an open-minded people, always eager to share ideas and hear what others have to say. We hope the French love of debate will influence the international community at the conference to discuss every topic on the agenda with frankness and spirit. From the G2G and G2B meetings to the networking sessions, the GFSI Conference offers an unparalleled platform for stakeholders to share their diverse perspectives on emerging challenges and solutions. Together, we can build a path that leads us into a safer food supply for tomorrow’s world.

Join us this February to become part of this productive conversation. We look forward to wishing you bienvenue à Nice!

This post was written and contributed by:

 Frédéric René
Chief Food Safety Officer, Danone, France
GFSI Board Member and Co-Chair of the GFSI Conference Committee
Pierre de Ginestel
Quality Director, Auchan, France
GFSI Board Member and Co-Chair of the GFSI Conference Committee
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