ATLANTA, 26 April 2023 —Winds of change: Food safety future hinges on innovation, public-private partnerships, working together. As food safety challenges mount, stakeholders in the global food safety space will need to work together in new ways to address them. Those challenges were tackled at Day 2 of the GFSI Conference in Atlanta with an array of new ways to ensure future-focused food safety.
Speeches and panel exchanges drove home that food safety will require innovation and collaboration, including a ground-breaking partnership announced today with USAID and GFSI to improve food safety and sustainable Food Systems in Africa. Breakout sessions and Tech Talks featured some of the most prominent voices in food safety. The conference was abuzz with major announcements from GFSI, Codex Alimentarius too, all hinging around the conference theme: Delivering Safe Food in Turbulent Times: The Need for Agility & Resilience.
High-powered speakers kicked off Day 2, including a keynote by Dr. José Emilio Esteban, US Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food Safety. Steve Wearne of the UK Food Standards Agency and the Codex Alimentarius Commission, highlighted the need for CODEX to adapt. Both drilled home the message that innovation and sustainability will play a big part in the future of food safety for all stakeholders.
Speaking from a regulatory perspective, Under Secretary Esteban gave insights into the USDA’s vision for food safety in a post-pandemic world. COVID-19 demonstrated that the globalised food industry is “very strong and good, but all those efficiencies also created a weakness,” he said. “We need to create a much more resilient system.” To build that system, the USDA works with GFSI to foster stronger connections with its collaborators in industry and intergovernmental agencies.
Steve Wearne next took the stage. In addition to highlighting the participation of GFSI and the CGF in Codex, he invited the delegation to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of CAC’s first meeting — cake and all. “The 60th anniversary of Codex is also a chance to look forward to the future of Codex and the future of how to act together,” he said.
Success Stories and Lessons Learned
Panel sessions gave conference goers a sense of food safety momentum. Public-Private Partnerships Collaboration, one of three parallel tracks on offer during three concurrent blocks, played large on Day 2. The track’s first session welcomed back Steve Wearne with colleagues Markus Lipp of the FAO and Farid El Haffar of Codex Alimentarius to share how GFSI works with intergovernmental agencies to address emerging risks in the food system. The second Public-Private Partnerships Collaboration session considered the role of regulators in promoting food safety in e-commerce. The third shared innovative digital approaches from the government of Dubai.
Capability building takes next step
The Capability Building track discussed GFSI’s active projects on this priority, including the Global Markets Programme and Race to the Top Feature 1: auditor competence and professional development. Yesterday’s keynote speaker Dr. Julian M. Cox of the University of New South Wales gave colour to two sessions on this track, including a talk on Burkholderia cocovenenans, the so-called “gruel pathogen.”
A strong buzz rang during a breakout on the relaunch of the Global Markets Programme, a capability tool for small or less-developed food business operators. As Steve Wearne noted, GMaP has drawn attention among intergovernmental agencies for its potential to create tangible change in developing markets. The new toolkit, which remains open source but will require registration to prevent unauthorised use, will become available in September 2023.
The Benchmarking & Harmonisation track included sessions on allergen risk assessment, food safety strategy at the Coca-Cola Company, and Race to the Top Feature 4: the design and development of the GFSI Certification Platform. Steering Committee member Zoltan Syposs of the Coca-Cola Company remarked on the struggle to get the platform off the ground, drawing on “lessons learned”. The discussion morphed into a brainstorming session for the future of the platform, ending with both speakers and delegates “excited to make it work,” said Natasa Matyasova of Nestlé.
Navigating Through the Storm
The final plenary sessions turned focus to Africa, where political instability and climate change pose layered challenges to delivering safe food. Consultant Dr. Lucia Anelich opened with an introduction to the diversity of the continent, home to 13% of the world’s population, and the African Union’s food safety strategy. Cindy Jenks, general manager of Pick n Pay, then offered a perspective from one of the continent’s largest retailers, which struggles with frequent power outages and low food safety capability among local producers.
Keith Dokho, private sector engagement secretariat lead for USAID, gave a much anticipated final keynote, calling out the food industry’s responsibility to help the public sector fight poverty and save lives in Africa and other developing markets. “We applaud our conveners like GFSI that are working in food safety and paving the way for public and private partnerships to harmonise and strengthen food safety systems around the world,” he said.
Dokho also helped announce breaking news: a memorandum of understanding between GFSI and USAID that builds on seven years of collaboration between the organisations. The MoU states that USAID will support GFSI in ensuring its capability-building framework is designed with, and for, less sophisticated food business operators worldwide — especially in Africa. “This partnership is an outstanding opportunity to scale up the impact of GFSI at a greater scale for safe food for everyone, everywhere,” said SteerCo Co-Chair Howard Popoola of The Kroger Co.
After the close of the programme, the Coca-Cola Company welcomed delegates to its Atlanta headquarters for the first official GFSI Conference dinner since 2020 — an opportunity to network and lay the groundwork for more productive partnerships.
The three-day conference concludes tomorrow.