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In January, Masanori Kotani (Amazon Japan G.K.) assumed office as the Chair of the GFSI Japan Local Group, with Atsushi Ishikawa (Harada Tea Processing Co., Ltd.) assuming office as the Vice-Chair. This interview was postponed due to COVID-19 crisis, and was conducted in June for the two to speak on future policies and activities of GFSI Japan Local Group.

GFSI Japan Local Group, Communication WG (GFSI): To begin with, COVID-19 infections are now rampant all over the world. With regard to COVID-19 related crises that have affected society and the economy in various ways, what is the impact on GFSI on the whole and the Japan Local Group specifically?

Masanori Kotani: There have been no major changes in the policies of the GFSI Japan Local Group. For individual activities, while we are actively adapting to the “new normal” (through new working styles), we have been able to continue our activities. For instance, we are currently considering offerings of remote sessions and videos online for the knowledge sharing programme that we planned to initiate this year in the GFSI Japan Local Group. By doing so, we expect positive impacts, such as allowing more people to participate.

Atsushi Ishikawa: In my view, the new normal is both beneficial and detrimental. For example, while it is now difficult to deliver the knowledge sharing programme in conventional face-to-face and classroom style, we could expect benefits brought by remote sessions, as this allows participants from afar or those who had not been able to participate thus far to join and broaden the audience. The downside is, though, that we assume the information and knowledge that would have been gained by checking out the production fields physically will be limited in a remote setting.

GFSI: Thank you. While no major changes have been made for the Japan Local Group on the whole, I heard that the group has formulated its vision and strategy recently. Starting off on this, please speak on your aspirations as the new Chair/Vice-Chair, and policies of the group’s activities.

Kotani: We will stick to our fundamental premise to follow the policies of GFSI headquarters when conducting our activities. The vision and strategy we have formulated is: through public-private partnerships and GFSI’s activities, we will raise awareness of food safety across the organisation and promote internationally-harmonised food safety programmes to “ensure safe food for consumers everywhere.”

This time, we have specially added the wording of “raise awareness of food safety across the organisation,” in other words, “the penetration of food safety culture”. In addition to harmonising and promoting the food safety standards that GFSI has been working on, we believe it is necessary to widely promote food safety culture in order to reduce food accidents.

Ishikawa: I believe that some part of the awareness of food safety culture is closely linked to the unique food culture of each country and region (for example, the culture of eating fermented foods and raw food). Japan would like to promote the culture of Japanese cuisine around the world, and I hope that the concept of food safety culture and the promotion of food safety programmes will help people understand the unique food culture of the region.

GFSI: Please tell us if you have any advice on actions to be taken by local companies to promote food safety culture.

Kotani: Food safety culture has been added as part of the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020. GFSI has defined food safety culture as “shared values, beliefs, and norms that influence food safety attitudes and behaviours within an organisation on food safety, both horizontally and vertically, and across the entire organisation”.

Many companies in Japan with Japanese employees think that food safety culture is already widespread without paying special attention to it. In order to improve food safety, it is necessary to not only comply with food safety standards and conduct education and training as has been done, but also to proactively implement a positive food safety culture. For example, how can we allow employees to openly discuss food safety ideas and concerns, and build an attitude of tolerance for differing opinions? Think about it.

Ishikawa: In Japan, people have largely relied on unspoken rules. In the future, however, as companies expand globally, it will be necessary to have common food safety awareness at workplaces where employees from various countries work, documenting information and using a variety of tools. In addition, providing a culture of food safety can be a motivation for work (beyond working for a living), and for that the GFSI-recognised standards can be used as well.

GFSI: Next, looking back on the recent 2020 GFSI Conference in Seattle, what are your impressions of the conference, and what do you hope to promote as the Japan Local Group in response to the conference?

Kotani: The biggest topic was the release of GFSI Benchmarking Requirements Version 2020. There are major revisions such as the food safety culture as I mentioned earlier, the scope structure in line with ISO 22000, and the requirements for unannounced audits. The nomenclature now follows the “year of release” rather than the “version number” as in the past. This indicates GFSI’s intention to revise the requirements continuously in accordance with the times.

GFSI: Thank you very much. Lastly, please tell us the important points about each of the three key issues of Japan Local Group’s strategy, i.e. harmonisation, capacity building and public-private partnerships.

Kotani: First, regarding harmonisation, the key point is how to harmonise the HACCP management and operation standards with the global market, or in other words, how to let people utilise the Global Markets Programme (GMaP).

In 2017, the GFSI Japan Local Group announced its target numbers for GFSI-recognised standards (1,000) and for standards referencing GMaP (5,000+) by 2020, against the number of GFSI-recognised standards (841) in 2016. In February and March of this year, a survey was conducted to determine the current status in 2020, and it found that approximately 2,200 GFSI-recognised standards had been acquired and around 2,500 standards, GMaP, including JFS-B standard, were referenced.

We cannot speak on definite correlation with the activities of the GFSI Japan Local Group, but we believe that the penetration of GMaP, which was not there at all in 2017, as well as great strides in the GFSI-recognised standards have been achieved.

Ishikawa: In the processed food industry, not only are the number of GFSI-recognised standards increasing, but also the number of cases utilising GMaP. In primary agricultural products, the number of certifications by GFSI-recognised standards, such as ASIAGAP and GLOBALGAP, has increased to about 2,000 by March 2020, but GMaP is rarely referenced in this context. There is still more that can be done to spread the food safety standards required by GFSI-recognised standards. We would like to enhance understanding on GFSI-recognised GAP certification.

In the field of primary agricultural products, we think it is important to investigate GMaP and GAP certification standards in order to make the structure of the step-up between GMaP and domestic GAP certification easier to understand.

Kotani: Next, with regard to capacity building, we will focus on expanding the content I mentioned in the “harmonisation” part, as well as developing the qualifications and competency requirements for assessors (evaluators) in utilising GMaP, and we are also exploring possibilities of using them as an instructor training syllabus for a broader understanding of GMaP-related matters. We believe that it can be used as a learning resource for those who are in the process of gaining more experience and as a reference for veterans to reconfirm their knowledge.

Ishikawa: On top of the survey I have just mentioned, it is important to develop an assessor training system in the field of primary agricultural products as well. By establishing a GMaP assessor training system and encouraging a broad participation of producers who are considering or are involved in GAP and GAP assessors in the assessment training for GMaP, it is expected to boost food safety to a certain level in primary agricultural products. Utilising remote setting programmes would also create a more participatory environment.

Kotani: Finally, with regards to public-private partnerships, I believe we will continue to build a good relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). The GFSI Japan Local Group can provide support to MAFF in the area of food exports. In order to achieve their target of 5 trillion Japanese yen by 2030, we would like to cooperate with the MAFF and continue to support certification acquisition of GFSI-recognised standards, as these standards become a passport for food export businesses.

Ishikawa: While we continue to collaborate closely with the MAFF, it would be good if we could also find opportunities to work with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), which is responsible for HACCP management and operation standards, to promote better understanding of the GFSI Benchmarking Requirements and the content of the GFSI-recognised standards.

GFSI: Thank you very much for your time!

This post was written and contributed by:

Kenichiro Kimura

Suntory Beverage & Food Limited

GFSI Japan Local Group Communication WG

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