Ensuring a supply of safe and quality food in an era of rapid globalisation, where consumer demand is leading to issues like food fraud, was an overarching theme at the fourth World of Food Safety Conference, which was held in Bangkok, Thailand, at the end of May.
While various presenters highlighted the risks food fraud poses to the food industry during the two-day conference, there were also plenty of discussions and presentations on how industry is taking steps to mitigate the supply chain risks.
The annual event, organised by THAIFEX-World of Food Safety Asia, was attended by members of the academia, government and industry sectors. Participants discussed developments surrounding the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), especially those related to the food industry. Other topics discussed were policy and regulatory impacts on the food industry; food quality and safety in the international food trade; best practices in ensuring food quality, traceability and contaminants; and ensuring food integrity and combating food fraud.
I was privileged to attend this year’s conference, themed “Driving Global Assurance of Food Safety and Quality”, alongside more than 100 food safety and quality professionals from 14 countries, and present on the topic “Challenges of Harmonisation of Food Safety Standards in ASEAN”.
The conference was opened by Mr Yves Rey, the former chairman of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and current Corporate Quality General Manager for Danone. In his opening speech, Mr Rey reiterated the importance of having a safe food supply in the era of globalisation. This sentiment was continually echoed by notable food safety professionals from various sectors over the following two days.
Dr Roy Fenoff, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at The Military College of South Carolina (The Citadel) and Research Collaborator with the Food Fraud Initiative, Michigan State University, touched on crime rates related to the food industry, as well as how change in society has provided opportunities for crime to occur.
He also explained the “Chemistry of the Crime”, which is the recipe for committing crime, which is made up of a motivated offender, suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian. When these three ingredients come together in the correct time and space, crime will likely occur. Inversely, if we disrupt these three factors, then it will be less likely for crime to occur.
Dr Fenoff stated that the area of food fraud is too broad for crime prevention, and highlighted the importance of narrowing down and focusing on specific adulterants and fraudulent acts, so as to administer specific prevention techniques to the respective acts.
Mr Gerald Chung, representing Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HAS), gave a detailed presentation on the analytical testing facilities for food, including counterfeit and adulterated products, while representatives from the food industry spoke of how, in the era of globalised trade, the areas of food safety and quality are becoming increasingly complex. An industry representative said that there has been increased attention to public perception, emerging risks, increased regulatory monitoring, adulteration and food fraud – thus shrinking tolerances to errors made by and related to industry – which are factors causing companies to put stronger precautionary measures in place.
Based on the presentations made at the conference, it was clear that the two key challenges discussed in relation to Asia’s food safety efforts, specifically, were food fraud and harmonisation.
All in all, I enjoyed hearing the updates from stakeholders across government, industry and academia, as we work together toward better and more harmonised food safety standards across Asia. It was also good to see that increasingly, across the supply chain, food safety is evermore becoming a shared responsibility.
Dr Siti N. Abdul Malek is the Head of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at Food Industry Asia (FIA).