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PARIS, 24th March 2021 — The second day of the virtual 2021 GFSI Conference looked towards the future of food safety with a programme that highlighted emerging entrepreneurs, the latest innovations and trends on the horizon. The many new faces on the screen pointed to one of the benefits of going virtual: The majority of this year’s speakers have never before appeared at a GFSI Conference, thanks in part to the relative ease of joining online. Their fresh perspectives and diverse experiences helped to emphasise this year’s theme, Food Safety: Rethink, Reset, Recharge. 

Building Trust in the Post-Pandemic World

One of the key topics of today’s programme was consumer trust — a central tenet of GFSI and its parent organisation, The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). Trust and transparency became especially critical during the pandemic, as consumers struggled to understand how to safely feed their families amidst a deluge of information.

The pandemic was the focal point of the first plenary of the day, ‘Covid-19, Public Health and Food Safety: A Call for Leadership and Resiliency’. Headlined by Dr. Naoko Yamamoto, a physician and epidemiologist who is responsible for food safety, nutrition, environmental health and other initiatives at the World Health Organisation, this session underscored the food industry’s role in supporting public health across all the markets it serves. ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has been an exceptional challenge to public health and food systems and everyone in the world, but it has also been an opportunity to reimagine safer, more resilient and sustainable food systems’, Dr. Yamamoto said. ‘We need to seek more collaborative approaches to be inclusive and innovative when working across sectors to achieve food safety.’

Responsibility and collaboration were also at the heart of ‘Doing the Right Thing: Food Safety Trust and Transparency’, which touched upon GFSI’s recent efforts to develop a joint mission on trust with its stakeholders. Speakers Professor Christopher Hodges OBE of Oxford University and Helena Leurent, Director General of Consumers International approached the concept of trust from different contexts — he was informed by an academic perspective, she by her background in marketing and consumer advocacy. Both agreed that consumers are increasingly demanding that companies ‘do the right thing’ in terms of food safety, sustainability, fairness and other goals. A code of ethics, said Professor Hodges, can help that commitment by acting ‘as an internal reminder or conscience’. To that end, and to help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by their 2030 deadline, GFSI has developed a new code of ethical conduct which is embedded in the newly crafted GFSI Governance rules and which will bind all stakeholders in the food safety ecosystem.

A panel of industry experts continued the conversation on trust in ‘Ready for Anything: How Resiliency and Technology Will Build Consumer Trust and Help Us Mitigate Disruption in the 21st Century’. The speakers, including the CEOs of Cargill and Ecolab, discussed the ways their companies — multinationals involved in various links of the global supply chain — continued to provide safe food, protect their employees and maintain consumer trust throughout the Covid-19 crisis. ‘We were empowering the employees to take the appropriate decisions locally’, said Natasa Matyasova, Head of Quality Management at Nestlé S.A. ‘This was key for success. Nobody can manage a global company in a crisis only from the centre.’

The Vanguard of Food Safety

Much of the remainder of the programme was devoted to showcasing all that is new in food safety. This includes the six Special Sessions, held concurrently during networking breaks, which presented technological solutions for auditor performance, chemical hazards, pest management and other challenges.

Startups were the stars of the day, as fresh-faced founders shared the screen with leaders from some of the world’s largest food multinationals. ‘The Frontier of Food Safety: New Science, Discoveries and Innovations’ introduced delegates to Yuan Cheng, founding director of the California startup Shrimply Blue, which is combatting invasive crustaceans in Lake Tahoe by turning them into sustainable pet food. A later session introduced Felix Cheung, founder and CEO of IXON, a Hong Kong-based company that has developed a way to sterilise foods at low temperatures so that they maintain their flavour and texture. The technology is effective enough to keep meat shelf-stable for up to two years.

Felix was a member of the 2020 Class of Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator, a mentor-driven programme that fosters emerging innovators in the food safety, food supply chain, food tech, farm productivity and waste management fields. Other startups and investors involved in the accelerator were introduced during a session devoted to the programme, including venture capitalist and Farm to Fork Managing Director Brett Brohl. Brett emphasised the value corporations can access by supporting early-stage entrepreneurs. ‘Founders can really provide a tremendous amount of expertise to big enterprises on how to go fast, how to think different, how to think about what the world looks like in 10 years, not just what it looks like next quarter’, he said. ‘It’s a tremendous amount of mentorship that actually flows both ways.’

The day’s discussion transcended the field of food safety in the penultimate plenary, ‘Food Safety and Beyond: Game-Changing Initiatives and Opportunities’. This session shifted the focus to other concerns of the CGF that are relevant to the food industry, including initiatives to reduce food waste and increase product circularity.

The programme culminated with a much-anticipated inspirational keynote by Andrew Steele, scientist and author of ‘Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old’. Andrew’s bestselling book dares to ask whether humans can surmount the ageing process

by taking cues from negligibly senescent animals like tortoises and hydras. In a burst of energy and enthusiasm, he painted a picture of a future in which humans effectively eradicate the diseases associated with old age through senolytic drugs. ‘We’re going to come up with treatments that can treat the ageing process itself and potentially therefore prevent a whole swathe of age-related diseases that we currently tend to pick off one at a time’, he declared. Before senolytics reach the general market, he recommended more familiar health advice: ‘Trying to maintain a healthy weight, doing some exercise, not smoking, all basically slow down your ageing because they have this global effect on all those different age-related diseases’, he said.

Throughout the varied programme, noted GFSI Director Erica Sheward, there was ‘a common theme running through … which is obviously collaboration and working together for better food safety outcomes.’ This collaborative spirit was also apparent in the networking areas, where delegates took advantage of the microphone-enabled meeting rooms, tables and benches to engage with peers and discuss next steps. We look forward to seeing what outcomes result from today’s ideas and connections.

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