The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Codex Alimentarius Commission Secretariat gathered online for a conversation that centred on public-private partnerships, a form of collaboration that is essential to securing food safety globally. Erica Sheward, GFSI Director at The Consumer Goods Forum, set the stage for the 11 March 2021 webinar called “How the Public and Private Sectors are Teaming Up for Safe Food for a Healthy Tomorrow” by explaining why World Food Safety Day (7 June 2021) is important to GFSI.
Because safe food is directly linked with economic prosperity and sustainable development, GFSI is encouraging conversation about food safety, and World Food Safety Day presents an opportunity, she explained. GFSI, a 20-year-old initiative with a global multi-stakeholder community behind it, promotes the extensive collaboration needed to ensure a safe global food supply.
Food is unlike other consumer products, Markus Lipp, FAO Senior Food Safety Officer explained. “After air and water, people need food – it is critical for our survival,” he said. “We network eating food, we fall in love over food and food helps build family connections,” yet there are hazards to consuming food, he said, emphasizing that the public health burden of unsafe food is huge. He then went on to explain that everyone can do something to help raise awareness on World Food Safety Day, and to facilitate activities, FAO and WHO have produced a guide in six languages (Links below).
Food assistance is at the heart of breaking the cycle of poverty and hunger, said Virginia Siebenrok, Head Food Safety and Quality at the UN World Food Programme. “We believe that the theme of this year’s World Food Safety Day – ‘Safe food now’ – and I need to underline the word ‘now’ – ‘for a healthy tomorrow’ resonates well with our mandate, she said, referring to the humanitarian organization that delivers food assistance in emergencies and works with local communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. “We cannot work in isolation,” she said, affirming that public-private partnerships are key to meeting WFP’s objectives.
Sarah Cahill of the Codex Alimentarius Commission Secretariat pointedly asked how we know that food is safe. “That is where the Codex Alimentarius comes in,” she said, recalling that the standards, codes of practice and guidelines are developed by governments with engagement of the private sector through Observers. Codex “is a partnership within the United Nations with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization being the parent organizations. It is a partnership among countries with 188 member countries and it is a partnership with inter and non-governmental bodies, private sector and civil society through its 239 observers,” said Cahill.
Anne Gerardi, GFSI Senior Project Manager with The Consumer Goods Forum, then presented GFSI’s belief that public-private collaborations are essential and that a better cross-sector understanding of each other’s practices is paramount to maximising use of everyone’s resources and the better management of risks. To illustrate this, Anne spoke about the GFSI’s achievements through the Government-to-Business meetings that are organized every year, noting it’s the largest collaboration between food safety regulators and the private sector. She said GFSI is leading a growing dialogue with regulators and governments to share the achievements of the private sector and to promote recognition by regulators of private sector food safety assessments. She also noted they have started several projects for large-scale collaboration on food safety.
Outlining some of the ways GFSI facilitates public-private partnership, Anne then gave examples of current projects around data sharing, the use of new technologies in information and communications in audit and inspection activities. Food safety is better implemented when industry understand regulators, she explained, and GFSI’s Government-to-Business meetings are a place where we can share good practices, she said.
Anne concluded her overview by introducing the GFSI’s work on building a new vision for capacity building with regulators, international standards setting bodies and IGOs. She said, we want this work to give smaller companies a way to start meeting the requirements of their customers, gain new customers and supply safe food to local and global markets. We want to enhance companies’ compliance with national and international regulatory frameworks such as CODEX while improving food safety culture and practices across geographies. We also want to apply this work for the greater good of all food business operators to truly be a a win-win for suppliers, buyers, governments and, above all, consumers.
Data collection, data sharing, engaging in conversation and collaboration are some of the ideas that emerged in the discussion of how the public and private sectors can work together to ensure food is safe.
Ahead of the GFSI conference on 23-25 March 2021, Anne invited participants to help draw attention to the world’s ‘food safety heroes’. A virtual exhibition space will allow participants to take pictures – the #FacesofFoodSafety.
Download the Guide to World Food Safety Day in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish (please hyperlink: Arabic: http://www.fao.org/3/cb3404ar/cb3404ar.pdf