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The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) welcomes the announcement by the FDA of the establishment of a voluntary pilot programme to evaluate third-party food safety certification programmes and recognises the value that reliable third-party certification brings to regulators in the delivery of their regulatory  oversight activities. However, GFSI is clear that the role of third-party certification is not to replace regulation or the delivery of inspection and enforcement interventions. The following statement sets out GFSI’s position on the complementary role that third-party certification plays alongside national food control systems (NFCS).

GFSI voluntary third-party assurance (vTPA) programmes are designed with a total view of food safety and serve as a complementary programme to a country’s NFCS. As such, the programmes are not intended to mirror any country’s food laws but are intended to serve as the cornerstone for effective food safety and quality management systems.

GFSI is the world’s largest collaboration on food safety by food safety professionals with a vision for Safe Food for Consumers Everywhere. GFSI advances food safety initiatives through collective action on its strategic objectives such as benchmarking and harmonisation, with the benchmarking process now the most-widely recognised initiative in the food industry worldwide. GFSI welcomes the actions of the US FDA in ushering in a New Era of Smarter Food Safety and wishes to highlight how voluntary third-party certification programmes can be used as a vital resource to aid regulatory authorities in achieving their NFCS objectives.

GFSI’s benchmarking requirements are built through the consensus of experts and are based on internationally recognised standards, such as Codex Alimentarius. These standards form a widely accepted understanding of what constitutes a robust food safety certification programme. Additionally, GFSI takes proactive measures in establishing new criteria based on scientific evidence and stakeholder expertise. These criteria help to ensure that the programmes continue to deliver on GFSI’s vision, often ahead of discussions that may be happening within an NFCS.

The benchmarking requirements are intended to transcend borders and build food safety into all aspects of a company, from management commitment to processes and procedures. Food business operators across the globe have demonstrated their commitment to food safety by undertaking voluntary accredited third-party certification in a GFSI-recognised programme, often with a significant investment in resources. Food business operators who are certified represent a diminished risk in the food landscape since regimented rules and procedures are in place to grant the certification and to maintain ongoing certification, including onsite audits.

GFSI can only play a complementary role as a benchmarking organisation with its recognised accredited third-party certification programmes to be used as a risk-based indicator for national food control systems to support risk-based resource allocation of regulatory oversight activities in the context of good regulatory practices. GFSI-recognised accredited certification programmes can and should be considered as an effective tool in assisting relevant regulatory authorities in meeting their NFCS objectives: knowledge regarding a food business operator’s certification status and scope can be valuable input in helping to decide where regulatory resources should be spent.  To further aid in this effort, GFSI has participated, since 2016, in the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems (CCFICS). The draft “Principles and Guidelines for the Assessment and Use of Voluntary Third-Party Assurance Programmes” is the output from this work and is ongoing. The document continues to remain an important agenda item for CCFICS and GFSI welcomes the opportunity to work with the global regulatory community on the concepts presented in the draft publication.

In conclusion, GFSI welcomes the opportunity to further elucidate how GFSI vTPA programmes may serve as a tool in helping to meet the needs of national food safety regulators seeking to support a risk-based approach to the delivery of regulation.

For additional information on GFSI benchmarking: https://mygfsi.com/what-we-do/harmonisation/

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