Food Safety is Non-Competitive and Non-Negotiable

Consensus that ‘Food Safety is a shared responsibility between governments, industry and civil society’ was the key outcome from two-days of discussions at the World of Food Safety Conference held last week.

Dr. Siti Abdul Malek, Head of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at Food Industry Asia (FIA), shares her diary on the themes, discussions and outcomes from the 3rd World of Food Safety Conference held in Bangkok last week.

This year’s conference was themed ‘Reinforcing Food Safety to Drive Consumer Confidence in Asia and Globally.’ I was privileged to attend, along with more than 100 food safety and quality professionals from 14 countries worldwide, and to participate in a panel discussion on - ‘Harmonisation of food safety standards in ASEAN in preparation for the ASEAN Economic Community: What more is needed?’

The conference was opened by Mr. Yves Rey, Corporate General Manager Danone, France, who reminded us that “Food Safety is non-competitive. Food Safety is non-negotiable. Food supply and trust have no borders.”

Over the following two days, notable food safety professionals from government, industry and academia continued to echo this sentiment, and it became a running theme as each presenter talked through the excellent work and progress from each of the tripartite sectors across Asia.

Government representatives, including Dr. Pisan Pongsapitch, Deputy Secretary General National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards (ACFS), Thailand, Dr Paul Chiew King Tiong Programme Chief (Food Safety) Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, Singapore, and Dr Doris Gerlach Food Chemist, Hessen State Laboratory / Border Inspection Post Frankfurt Airport, Germany, discussed their commitment to building better food safety policies and regulations. Notably Prof Liu Xiumei, the Scientific Advisor at the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment highlighted the advancement on the new food safety regulations announced in China, and the capabilities this will build in food safety in the country.

Presenters from the food industry included Eric Dy, Quality Manager, Global External Quality Management Asia for General Mills, and Arnel Cabungcal, Head of ASEAN Quality Coca-Cola Far East Ltd, Philippines, who shared examples of where the industry is working to take more responsibility in promoting self-regulation.

Eric Dy, opened the lid on General Mills’ supplier management process and explained how it is both ingrained in the company’s culture and values; and incorporates practical measures such as FDA import alerts.

We also heard updates from a number of notable academics contributing to new tools that can be used in identifying pathogenic microorganisms and non-targeted testing, including Dr Suwimon Keeratipibul, Associate Professor Chulalongkorn University Thailand and Professor Liu Xiumei.

The two key challenges discussed in relation to Asia’s food safety efforts specifically were food fraud and harmonisation and these challenges were brought to light further in the panel discussion I participated in.

On the second day of the conference, John Keogh, President and Managing Principal, Shantalla Vietnam, highlighted the need for improved safety throughout the food supply chain. In his presentation, Mr Keogh outlined that with increasingly complex global food supply chains, food and beverage companies are more vulnerable than ever to fraudulent activities and that the potential business impact has never been more complicated. One suggestion he discussed for enhancing traceability was the development of a global database to facilitate more efficient sharing of information in the new era of the ‘food web’.

For me, it was pleasing to hear updates collectively from stakeholders across government, industry, and academia, as we work towards better and more harmonised food safety standards across Asia, and also to see that increasingly from farm to fork, food safety is evermore becoming a shared responsibility.

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