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Are you a national regulatory authority, intergovernmental organisation, or transnational food business? Want to know what G2B is, and how it can help you access current thinking and insights from across these communities? Read on!

The GFSI government-to-business (G2B) Meeting in 2019 was my first experience with this annual forum. It is held adjacent to the GFSI Conference, which in 2020 will be held in Seattle. I was impressed by the openness of global food businesses, national regulatory authorities and intergovernmental organisations alike, and their willingness to share perspectives and experiences. Part of this is down to the topics selected for discussion, which are topical, transboundary, and key for both food safety and business. However, this is also in part due to the unique nature of the forum itself, and the participants that it attracts.

For 2020, the UK Food Standards Agency has joined the US Food and Drug Administration and GFSI on the organising committee for what will be the fifth G2B Meeting. Part of our objective is to maintain the relevance of the discussions to the global issues we are facing together in our shared mission of ensuring safe food for consumers everywhere. We also aim to continue attracting people with insights to offer and share. The 2019 G2B Meeting drew national regulatory bodies from over thirty countries spanning Africa, the Americas, the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the Near East . We were joined by a dozen intergovernmental organisations including the World Bank and Codex Alimentarius, and over 20 global players from a broad range of food industry sectors. In this blog I’ll be anticipating some of our agenda items, and I hope to convince you to join us in Seattle in February!

We will return to the issue of regulatory authorities using data from voluntary third-party assurance programmes to inform their regulatory oversight, for example on intensity and frequency of official control inspections. Use of trusted data from across the food chain underpins some of the most innovative approaches to assuring food safety, through the use of technologies such as block chain and AI. Even in the absence of new technological applications, this data allows regulatory authorities to make more informed judgements about where risk lies in the food chain and where they should apply their resources to deliver consumer protection in the most effective and efficient way.

The focus in 2020 will be on capacity building and the market access for small and medium-sized enterprises that can result from the use of voluntary third-party assurance programmes. I’m proud of the history we have in the UK of innovation in recognising the value of the data generated by these programmes to our national food control system and its use across the primary production, dairy and animal feed sectors. I’m also delighted that the practice is spreading more widely and that there are projects supported by the Standards and Trade Development Facility of the World Trade Organization across Africa and Latin America. I look forward to hearing insights regarding the use of data from voluntary third- party assurance programmes in a range of national situations at G2B and during the main conference itself. There is potential for all of us in the regulatory community, whatever our region or national circumstances, to make better use of this data to support our national food control system objectives. With the prospect of the Codex Alimentarius Commission hopefully agreeing in July 2020 on some guidelines for the use of this data by national regulatory authorities, this remains highly topical and relevant to both G2B and GFSI.

The consistent and transparent use by regulators of this data will need some principles to guide data- sharing between the owners of voluntary third-party assurance programmes and national regulatory authorities. This has been the focus of some great preparatory work by a group set up at the last G2B, and my hope is that we’ll have some principles and proposals to discuss more widely in Seattle.

As I talk to other national regulatory authorities around the world, another topic often on our minds is e-commerce, and how consumer protection can be assured in this arena. Collaborative work — between authorities and with industry — is underway in a variety of forums, and the forthcoming G2B Meeting will be an excellent and timely opportunity to review and bring everyone up to speed. This work includes that being led by UK government colleagues in the Codex Committee on Food Labelling.

There is also an increasing need to identify the next challenges and opportunities for more effective regulation of food purchased online to protect consumers from food safety risks and deceptive practices. From a regulator’s perspective it is important to strike the right balance between protection from risk, support for consumer choice and support for business growth and innovation – all while delivering regulation that is effective, proportionate and sustainable.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the upcoming G2B Meeting in Seattle. It has all the right ingredients to afford a highly participative session that will influence agendas both nationally and globally. We will have a packed agenda for a day of engaging discussion and shared agenda-setting at G2B in 2020. Why don’t you join us?

This blog was written and contributed by:

Steve Wearne
Codex Alimentarius Commission

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