The fourth annual GFSI Government-to-Business (G2B) Meeting, held immediately prior to the GFSI Conference in Nice, attracted a record number of participants: 125 leaders and decision-makers took part, representing 29 governments, 38 governmental agencies and 10 intergovernmental organisations. Since its first iteration in Berlin in 2016, the meeting has offered a unique platform for governments to engage with industry in an informal, parity-based platform.
Today on the GFSI Experts Series, we speak to Mike Robach, Chairman of the GFSI Board, and two members of the G2B Organising Committee, Mark Burgham of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Hans Beuger of the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. Speaking with GFSI’s Anne Gerardi, they explain how the meeting has evolved over time and predict how it will continue to grow in the future. Watch their conversation on GFSI Youtube, or read the transcript below.
Anne: Can you please introduce yourselves and your roles at GFSI?
Mike Robach: I’m Mike Robach, and I’m the Chairman of the Board of the Global Food Safety Initiative.
Mark Burgham: My name is Mark Burgham. I’m with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. My role has been, ever since Berlin four years ago when we started this project, to work with the organising committee of GFSI. We bring a regulator’s perspective to this different type of forum.
Hans Beuger: Hi. I’m Hans Beuger from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. I’m Senior Advisor of Food Safety in the Netherlands. I’ve enjoyed the GFSI community for a long time.
Anne: Can you tell us about the Government to Business (G2B) Meeting?
Mike: G2B stands for Government to Business. This is something that we started three years ago in Berlin. We tried to get the companies of GFSI in a room with regulators from around the world so that we could start discussing common opportunities to advance food safety around the globe.
Hans: The Netherlands and the Canadian authorities, we have a long history in common about the conservation of the use of private assurance schemes in our public oversight. In 2016, we got the idea to see whether or not more and more countries could be involved in this policy. We encountered GFSI, and they were immediately very excited about organising and facilitating a G2G meeting.
Anne: What has been the role of the organising committee for the last few months, and who was on that committee?
Mark: On that committee, we had a wide array of perspectives. We had IICA, we had Codex, we had a number of regulators, and of course the organising committee of GFSI as well. We brought together a unique number of perspectives to help to flesh out the approach that we would use this year, to deepen the conversation and broaden the perspectives at the workshops. And through those workshops, we really did get to a point where we had a wide variety of perspectives. We had 29 different countries’ authorities, 10 different intergovernmental organisations. They all participated in a very deep and meaningful way.
Anne: Why is it important to have business join the table with governments for this meeting?
Hans: It’s good to have a G2G meeting as a safe setting for governments, but for public-private partnerships, you need the connection between the private sector and the government sector. So it’s a logical step to have a G2G meeting, and on top of that we have a G2B meeting. We invite industry around the table, where governments are already sitting, to interact more and have discussions on another level, perhaps, about information exchange. What are the responsibilities of governments? What are the responsibilities of the private sector? Where is the overlap? For cooperation and partnership, you need to exchange information. What type of information? And that is where we have to make steps. Therefore, I think the G2B meeting is a perfect setting to talk about these issues.
Anne: Why is this platform so unique?
Mike: We said at the beginning of the meeting that we can’t do this alone. The private sector can’t do it alone, government can’t do it alone. There’s a realisation that we’re a heck of a lot more effective working together than we are working apart.
Mark: It has been so unique because it’s the only informal opportunity to bring together regulators and industry and intergovernmental organisations. Over that time, since Berlin, we have evolved. We’ve matured the relationship to where I think there are honest conversations that happen. We’ve seen that in terms of the level of understanding being raised over those years. I think there have been meaningful outcomes, such as the STDF project proposals. I also think of the rapid pace with which we’ve proceeded through the Codex guidance. We’ve moved that much faster than I think we would have otherwise.
Hans: I would underline the word partnership, because it’s not top-down or whatever. It’s not. It’s about responsibilities, roles, tasks, but also about synergies. Looking for the synergies between the self-regulation and the private sector, and the responsibilities of governments; I think the G2B is a great platform for that. The board of GFSI is always asking “how can we support governments to make the first step, to make the next step?” I think that’s really a drive on both sides to go further.
Anne: What was special about the 4th edition of this meeting?
Mike: The fourth year was special because we had a record number of governments and intergovernmental organisations in attendance. We also had a change in the way that we had the programme put together. Before, it was around presentations, almost lectures, from different parties. This year we broke the group up into workshops. So we actually got down, rolled up our sleeves and got some work done in the areas of capacity building and then data sharing and transparency.
Hans: Well, it changed. The first three years, I think, were more or less on a safe level; getting governments around the table to get more acquainted to the public-private cooperation and how governments can make use of private certification. But this year, we made a large step. We had real, good discussions about information exchange, but also about the Global Markets Programme and how developing countries can join these developments and take benefits from the growth and self-regulation in the private sector.
Anne: Will this year’s meeting lead to concrete projects with stakeholders?
Mark: There’s no question that this year has been the best yet. We have some meaningful outcomes from the discussions that we had in the workshops. On data sharing and transparency, we’ve now got the genesis of a working group that is going to take that conversation even deeper, working with GFSI and the certification programme owners to explore that in more depth. On capacity building, we have launched a project proposal with the STDF, working with a number of developing countries — IICA, COMESA — to get something practical going. We’re looking at how to get on a regional basis with developing countries so that they start to understand and increase their level of comfort with certification.
Anne: What is the significance of having these meetings in parallel to the GFSI Conference?
Hans: It’s a perfect combination of having G2G meetings in safe surroundings and meeting industry in the G2B meeting, but also being part of the GFSI community. In an informal way, you can exchange information, you can meet colleagues, experts, et cetera all over the world. This might be a great opportunity to see what’s going on in the private sector. If you were anxious about it, you can feel that we have all the same goal: safe food for all people.
To learn more about GFSI’s platforms for public-private partnerships, watch our previous episode with Argentina’s Ministry of Agroindustry (MINAGRO), as well as our three episodes with representatives from Codex Alimentarius. Follow #GFSIexperts on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn and subscribe to GFSI News to make sure you do not miss an episode!