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PARIS, 1 September 2023 – The GFSI Steering Committee meeting in April recharged its mission to bring new life to the Race to the Top. The framework dominated the two-day meeting held prior to the GFSI Conference in Atlanta. Steerco discussion looked at ways to refine priorities for 2023 and beyond, including engagement with CPOs – certification programme owners

Led by incoming Co-Chairs Mark Fryling from General Mills and Howard Popoola from Kroger, the body tackled all three strategic areas of work: the Capability Building Framework, benchmarking and harmonisation and Public-Private Partnerships including the signed partnership between USAID and GFSI. The Steering Committee also devoted attention to future-focused areas including Auditor Training and Professional Development and work by the Science and Technology Advisory Group.

Race to the top: ‘Feature 2’ Under Review

Race to the Top framework Feature 2 dominated much of Day 1 where it was concluded that much more work can be done on CPO oversight linked to audit outcomes. Following an  independent review of the work that GFSI does in this area and which forms part of Feature 2 of the Race to the Top framework, a presentation was made to the Steering Committee by consultants from PWC who had undertaken the review. 

GFSI sees common goals shared between its members and the certification community on securing food safety, but differences surface. A fundamental misalignment exists in the outcomes that needs to be acknowledged, on food safety programme differentiation, the audit methods and roles and responsibilities between GFSI and the CPOs it recognises. Food Business Operators, or FBOs, along with regulators confirm the need to improve collaboration and exchange and suggest further activities to build trust across the ecosystem. Members of the Steering Committee gave an on-stage update during the GFSI Conference on the findings with the PWC duo.

Relatedly, the Steering Committee invited CPOs to an exchange on what GFSI sees as common values: Trust, Respect, Responsibility, Transparency, Accountability, and Integrity. The committee shared with the CPOs that it intends to build on work touched on by PWC on ensuring that roles and responsibilities between recognised CPOs and GFSI are defined and agreed and to also define optimal roles and responsibilities across key stakeholders to support the maintenance of a  transparent and smooth governance process. 

The PPP Subcommittee Shares Robust Plan 

Day 2 kicked off with an update and future plans from the GFSI Subcommittee on Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). Mandated to build partnerships with governmental organisations and intergovernmental organisations, the Subcommittee discussed opportunities  to contribute to Codex efforts to measure use and impact of Codex Standards via the proposed Online Certification Platform. It also plans to tackle complementarity of roles and requirements between GFSI and regulators through the G2B forum. 

News broke on Day 2 that GFSI and the US international development agency USAID would sign a Memorandum of Understanding later that week during the GFSI conference. The announced partnership gives GFSI a path to reach out to African suppliers for piloting and designing the nascent Capability Building Framework. 

G2B forum aims to build trust

Relatedly, the Government-to-Business platform, or G2B, is gaining further traction. The Steering Committee explored areas of mutual interest between GFSI and regulators – capability building, audit outcomes, data sharing and use of ICT.  Those topics were explored at length during the 28 April GFSI G2B meeting in Atlanta. Some 80 stakeholders registered to take part, including regulatory and certification authorities. Intergovernmental organisations also participated, including those from FAO, CODEX, OECD, IICA, and COMESA. More than a dozen countries from Africa attended, as well as authorities from all other regions.

ICT Survey to be launched

The GFSI Steering Committee seeks a more complete picture on current use of ICT – Information and Communication Technologies – in audit and inspection activities. To do this, GFSI will launch a Call for Evidence in September to gather valuable evidence that GFSI must apply as a science-based organisation. GFSI will administer two separate surveys dedicated to food safety operators and the certification community. GFSI Local Groups, the GFSI Science and Technology Advisory Group, GFSI CODEX Working Group took part in the survey development process with the Steering Committee having final say on survey design. 

Update on Technical Equivalence

The Steering Committee  discussed the work  done with  Public Standards already acknowledged by GFSI through the Technical Equivalence system. Evolving TE to create a different recognition system for Public Authorities through the proposed Capability Building Framework  in addition to exploring the barriers preventing  a pathway to full recognition.

Governance Sub Committee Future Focused

The GFSI Governance Sub Committee will prepare the Annual Review and Compliance Report and will present it to the Steering Committee in the first quarter of each new calendar year.  The Committee scored success in 2022 with version 7.0 of the Governance Rules where major changes included a sanctioning process, updated complaints procedure, annual reporting requirement and Benchmarking process – Article Xlll Benchmarking and Technical Equivalence Requirements. 

The Governance Sub Committee oversees the Steering Committee application process and will look over the new window for applications to the Steering Committee that opened immediately after the conference. 

GFSI Brand Abuse Now Tracked, Addressed

GFSI constantly monitors the abuse of the GFSI brand. GFSI brings routinely to the Governance Committee updates on cases which numbered 11. GFSI will launch a new public website that names those in breach of GFSI branding rules, such as use of logo and name.

The Steering Committee agenda ended with a call for continuous improvement in GFSI programme work, collaboration, and transparency and to strengthen food safety for people everywhere. 

Science and Technology Advisory Group (STAG): On the Front Foot of Emerging, Pressing Issues

Charged with a mission to provide GFSI with an expert, independent outlook on cutting-edge science and technology developments that may impact food safety, the STAG group is looking at inputs, guides, outputs, and enablers. 

In the coming months, the six-member STAG, composed of independent advisors, has ambitious plans to create up to five new Working Groups depending on priorities, with Steering Committee participation essential in the build out process.

The STAG in 2023 will engage with GFSI requests, such as Capability Building and instigate a deep dive into hot topics like Artificial Intelligence applications in food safety, potential papers on food safety in the context of food security and food fraud.

Auditor Competence and Professional Development: A new vision, a new plan 

As the pool of high-quality food safety auditors dwindles, GFSI Race to the Top Feature 1 tackles the problem through the development of a Professional Development Framework for food safety auditors. By making food safety auditing a real profession and opportunity for lifelong learning from novice to expert, GFSI aims to expand the pool of entry-level auditors who progress through levels over time to become the best that they can and want to be. The model is based on other safety critical professions like allied healthcare.

Professionalising food safety auditing

GFSI remains steadfast to professionalise food safety auditing and to make it an attractive career option. To do this, GFSI plans to develop a Professional Development Framework (PDF) across the full profession of food safety auditing. Through a mechanism built by GFSI, everyone in the food safety auditing world will be able to recognise themselves on the framework and see where they are and where they need to get to. 

The PDF work matters because a professional auditor must hold both technical knowledge auditing and other skills. Auditor competence is only one step, but the auditors need proficiency – the ability to take skills, knowledge and behaviours and apply them in an industrial setting. 

The next GFSI Steering Committee meeting will take place in October 2022. 

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