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Trust is undisputedly a fundamental ingredient in the recipe for food safety progress, so it comes as no surprise that it held such a prominent place at the recent GFSI Conference. The topic of trust was the guest of honour, referenced throughout the conference week in nearly every plenary speech, every breakout session and every meeting.

In fact, the Steering Committee of the Global Food Safety Initiative got a head start on the week, holding their Q1 meeting just ahead of the 2022 Conference. A recurring theme throughout the three-day meeting was that of building trusting relationships across the complex multi-stakeholder food safety ecosystem for the benefit of people everywhere.

In his opening, Roy Kirby, Co-Chair of the GFSI SteerCo noted everything we do is based on trust. It’s the glue of life. The difficult thing about trust is that it arrives on foot, and it leaves on horseback. 

The meeting agenda looked at strengthening trust and relationships across key stakeholder groups, including food businesses, certification programme owners (CPOs), certification bodies (CBs), auditors, regulators, national public health officials and intergovernmental organisations (IGOs).

Structuring the meeting were presentations by each of the SteerCo subcommittees: Governance, Technical, Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and Capability Building.

Technical Subcommittee Update

The Technical Subcommittee kicked off day one of the meeting with a progress update. The SteerCo was informed that the committee had met six times in 2021, conducted regular reviews of the Covid-19 position, led investigations on four appeals, reviewed the outcomes of three Working Groups – which they presented to the SteerCo for approval and integration into the Benchmarking Requirements – and reviewed the outcomes of the Expert Group on the Use of Technologies during audits. They also monitored progress on the four features of GFSI’s Race to the Top (RTTT).

The Technical Subcommittee also reminded the full group of the process of amending the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements. After a Working Group is formed in response to a mandate from the SteerCo, they deliver the results of their work along with a recommendation to amend the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements. These recommendations go to the Stakeholder Advisory Forum (SAF) and then undergo a four-week stakeholder consultation. GFSI responds to all comments raised via the consultation, at which point the proposal goes to the Technical Subcommittee for review and approval. This process is long but robust, in line with the critical need to ensure that the development of the Benchmarking Requirements is always done in a transparent and fair manner.

The Technical Subcommittee then provided an update on the CB2B Forum (Certification Body to Business), which has been created to strengthen GFSI’s engagement with Certification Bodies by providing of a platform for collaboration between them and members of The Consumer Goods Forum, GFSI’s parent organisation, allowing both parties to share insights while improving the operational and strategic delivery of audits. The SteerCo was informed that the parity-based CB2B Forum comprises four CBs and four food companies. The CB2B Forum’s top priorities are to share information on performance measurements and harmonise performance indicators into a common measurement for GFSI-recognised certification. Their next steps will include consulting with other industries to compare how performance is measured, agreeing on these measures and gathering measurement-related data. It has been clear throughout that the Certification Bodies are committed to ensuring a successful outcome for this Forum.

Governance Subcommittee Update

The next Subcommittee to take the floor was the Governance Committee. This committee met four times in 2021, conducted a full review of the new governance rules, supported the development of the GFSI QMS Quality Management System, the Ethics Code, reviewed two complaints and supported the work on GFSI brand protection. The major revision to the governance rules relates to the stakeholder engagement plan, where a GFSI has now committed to developing defined stakeholder management plans within each project to further strengthen its collaborative and consultative relationship with the food safety community.

Certification Programme Owner Update

The next segment on the agenda saw the community of GFSI-recognised Certification Programme Owners (CPOs) join the SteerCo for a dialogue centred around further strengthening positive and trusting relationships. The CPOs were first brought up to speed on the items already discussed including an update on the features of the Race to the Top. It was stressed that trust is the key driver behind the delivery of the RTTT and that everyone has a role to play in the non-compete area of food safety. The group examined the role played by CPOs in the GFSI ecosystem and the ways of collaborating between the parties, agreeing that efforts to further improve this collaboration could be beneficial to the shared objective of safe food everywhere.

Public-Private Partnerships Subcommittee Update

Next up was the Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) Subcommittee, who kicked off the discussion by reminding the group of their mandate and activities. The SteerCo reaffirmed the strategic value of the PPP workstream in terms of getting GFSI-recognised certification to be used for risk-based resource allocation in national food control systems. It was also stressed that to achieve this outcome, GFSI needs to have greater transparency, particularly as it pertains to data sharing and it needs to build more trust around the RTTT with the regulators.

The 2022 Government-to-Business (G2B) plan was presented to the SteerCo and demonstrated a shift towards a three-tier engagement paradigm:

  • Introductory Level – focused on food fraud & information and communication technologies.
  • Intermediate Level – focused on the certificate platform project as an enabler of data sharing.
  • High Level – focused on GFSI’s support towards the development and implementation of the UN agencies’ strategy.

The SteerCo was presented with a participants list of jurisdictions that have volunteered to participate in the G2B Intermediate Level. The SteerCo proceeded to review the proposed meeting agenda with the UN agency representatives (from FAO, WHO and WFP) and to highlight areas where trust can be built and greater support can be gathered, particularly regarding the vTPA (voluntary third-party assurance) work and the creation of the new capability building framework.

Capability Building Subcommittee Update

As part of the design thinking phase of GFSI’s capability building framework development, the Local Groups had been tasked with conducting a diagnosis of the capability needs in their respective regions to ensure that these needs are addressed in the new framework proposal. It is anticipated that a robust strategic framework and pilot will be ready for presentation to the SteerCo in September 2022.

Building up to this, the following tasks will be instrumental: drafting a framework, conducting a stakeholder mapping exercise linked to the new capability building framework and identifying technical stakeholders best suited to participate in the design thinking phase.

A call was made for SteerCo member companies to think about what capability building needs they need addressed in their supply chains and to nominate committed and competent members to join GFSI’s Local Groups in order to support the implementation of the framework. An informal SteerCo subgroup was formed and tasked with reviewing Local Groups’ business plans to find areas of alignment and provide specific feedback on Local Group priorities for each region. 

Science and Advisory Group (STAG) Update

The STAG update reiterated their proposed mission to deliver in depth and high-quality reviews of science and technology trends, using leading experts, to provide relevant, actionable and timely recommendations to the SteerCo. The STAG is a permanent team, which will meet at least four times a year and produce an interim and annual update. 

The first STAG report is currently in development. The report’s objective is to provide a high level and thorough review of the key scientific areas impacting or likely to impact business and food safety in the near and medium term. The report will focus on five areas: big data in food safety, the role of the microbiome and food safety, emerging foodborne pathogens, food system resilience and food safety in the context of food security. The SteerCo expressed excitement about this report. The suggestion was made to consider the Working Groups as a mechanism to bridge the link between the findings in the scientific report and the practical realities of the GFSI ecosystem.

SteerCo Meeting with UN Agencies

The SteerCo meeting closed out with a discussion with UN representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). The objectives were to learn more about their respective strategic food safety frameworks and explore areas for collaboration based on common strategic objectives. The UN representatives stressed the importance of the role played by the private sector regarding the implementation of these strategic frameworks and highlighted the importance of the private sector’s responsibility to ensure their own quality control i.e., via third-party accreditation. They strongly encouraged the work around accountability and transparency of audits, food safety culture, the use of sound science and the support of innovative processes in areas such as the packaging and distribution systems.

The UN reps also expressed support for GFSI’s work on capability building and its broader programme of inclusivity and alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda. They encouraged dialogue to ensure that the future Capability Building Framework fully addresses the needs of SMEs and supports their entrance in the global market.

The three-day GFSI Steering Committee ended on the same note of trust, collaboration and strong relationships for strong food safety systems. The UN reps stressed that transparent governance and trust is central to food safety and the full group explored how both parties can support efforts to foster strong levels of trust and confidence. It was agreed that GFSI’s PPP Subcommittee would work to support and deliver this agenda with the UN agencies.

The next GFSI Steering Committee meeting will take place in mid-September 2022. We invite you to sign up to GFSI News to receive all the latest updates and see how you can get involved to support GFSI’s vision of safe food for people everywhere.

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