World Health Day 2015 Focused on Global Food Safety

As we pause to mark World Health Day 2015 this week, FIA takes a look at the important issues in food safety and how the industry has come together through multi-stakeholder collaborations to drive access to safe and nutritious food for all. The importance of food safety cannot be understated, given the increasing complexity in supply chains and increased food trade across borders. This is why food safety has been set as the theme for this year’s World Health Day.

Thanks to the advance in food science, technology, and vast investments in R&D, the food industry produces billions of tonnes of safe and nutritious food every day.

However, while there are significant efforts across the supply chain to protect consumers and improve the state of global food safety, the world is still faced with major challenges, especially in less developed countries. According to the WHO, at least two billion people are affected globally by food safety related incidents each year. The intricate web of suppliers beyond borders has raised the possibilities of food safety incidents on a global scale which we have received widespread attention and eroded trust, such as the melamine crisis in 2008.

FIA members representing the food industry in Asia and beyond have recognised that the only way to tackle food safety effectively on a global scale is through multi-sectoral partnerships. Together, through non-competitive collaborations and joint efforts, the food industry, governments, international organisations and civil society are coming together to address this challenge and cultivate a global culture of food safety.

One such initiative is the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP), a multi-stakeholder platform that is convened by the World Bank. The GFSPis committed to cultivating and scaling-up capacity building programmes on food safety in developing countries with the goal of shaping and repurposing tools and processes to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity.

Here are a few notable highlights from this year’s dialogue on how we call all play a role to step up efforts to achieve global food safety as we pause to reflect on World Health Day 2015.

Shared Responsibility is Key to Ensuring Safe and Nutritious Food

A collaborative effort in tackling global food safety is vital. Food security still remains a prevalent issue, but having enough food for people does not necessarily mean that everyone has access to safe food. On Striking Poverty - the newly launched discussion forum by the World Bank, Dr Paul Young, Senior Director, Food & Environment Business Operation, Waters, emphasised his point on the emergence of an “expanded cast of characters with a broadening range of responsibilities”. “Governments will play a starring role, balancing food imports with food exports in a global market place, simultaneously seeking to protect both citizens and market access by ensuring that inbound and outbound foods are compliant in equal measure. The food industry must play its part sharing experience of best practices gained in the quest of protecting both consumers and brands. Both inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations will play leading roles facilitating knowledge transfer to emerging economies.”

Traceability must be Improved for Safer Food Supply Chains

As global supply chains become increasingly complex, the ability to track a single product or ingredient from field to shelf has become a priority for millions of food businesses in ensuring global food safety. In a recent interview with FIA, Patrik Jonasson, Director of Public Policy for Asia-Pacific at GS1, highlighted the lack of integrated product identification systems in Asia and called for the development of information-sharing systems to improve record keeping. He also conveyed the untapped potential for business-to-business smartphone applications to support traceability solutions. Jonasson encouraged industry to reach common agreements on minimum traceability requirements by sector, suggesting this would help improve business prospects across markets. “It would be ideal to see global and regional industry working groups on traceability, such as those managed by trade organisations and private sector groupings, reaching the point of a common agreement on minimum traceability requirements for each sector. A more common industry approach to meeting traceability requirements would provide improved business opportunities in various markets.”

SMEs and the Inputs from the Local Food Industry are Key

SMEs play a crucial role in ensuring that the vast stretch of the food supply chain produces and delivers safe food for consumers everywhere. In order to achieve this, it is crucial to provide small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with training and knowledge on global best practices. The process of disseminating this knowledge to the local food industry often comes in form of capacity building programmes, says Dr Siti Noorbaiyah Abdul Malek in her role as Principal Technical Adviser to the ASEAN Food & Beverage Alliance (AFBA).

Some key success factors for capacity building initiatives could be:

  • Transparent communication amongst SMEs, governments and local authorities on standards development
  • Better collaboration between SMEs and quality checkpoints assigned by local authorities, service providers, and governments.
  • Improved support from knowledge experts, consultants and academicians in capacity building of suppliers

Dr Siti highlights that organisations like AFBA can play an important role in facilitating the knowledge transfer process from global best practices to local SMEs. Industry alliances such as AFBA can help to ensure technical knowledge from the food industry is communicated effectively to small and medium enterprises in the form of workshops and roadshows. AFBA can also keep local SMEs updated with information and technical requirements on global food safety standards by issuing newsletters, reports and technical briefs.

It is Important to Understand Country Specific Regulations and Policy Climates

In order to ensure a safe food supply chain globally, the country specific regulations and policy climates must be understood properly. Food companies need to understand how and why countries rely on different methods of issuing and enforcing regulations and policy changes when it comes to food safety. Paul O’Brien, a seasoned Food Regulatory Analyst, highlights the importance of understanding country specific policy climates by highlighting China as an example in a recent interview with FIA. “By its own admission, China’s unprecedented rate of economic growth has by and large outpaced the development of its regulatory framework and greatly overburdened its supervisory and enforcement capacities. Despite the promulgation of increasingly stringent food legislation and regulations, China has been unable to regulate itself free from its current food safety quagmire due to the complexity of its gargantuan food supply chain. China and most of Asia are in grave need of new thinking and fresh perspective.”

The Food Industry Remains Committed to Improving Global Food Safety

The food industry remains committed to delivering safe food for consumers everywhere. In particular, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) is an industry led effort that has spearheaded the global movement of making food safe. The essence of this initiative is non-competitive collaboration, effectively bringing together knowledge from various stakeholders across the food supply chain - governments, academicians, industry groups, and civil society. Here’s a short video on what the Global Food Safety Initiative can do to ensure “Safe Food for Consumers Everywhere".

Alongside this, collaborations such as the Global Food Safety Partnership are examples of how the industry has come together to build the knowledge base, and tap on every sector’s expertise and intelligence to produce safe food for consumers everywhere.

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