Industry urged to work together on food safety

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All stakeholders in the global food and drink industry have a duty to work together to deliver safe food.

That was the key message from the 2010 Food Safety Conference in Washington DC, USA, yesterday.

The event, organised by The Consumer Goods Forum, attracted a record-breaking 675 delegates from 39 countries.

Forum managing director Jean-Marc Saubade said consumer confidence had been shaken the world over, following a series of high-profile food safety incidents. The industry must work collectively to restore confidence and ensure that all consumers can exercise their right to buy and consume safe food, he said.

“We all have a duty to work together on a non-competitive basis to deliver this. It is imperative to join up the dots: between farm and fork; between science, industry and regulators; between standards, auditors and suppliers …The industry will speak as one voice.”

Saubade’s call for collaboration was backed up by Leslie

Sarasin, CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association. The two American trade bodies pledged to work together and with the Consumer Goods Forum to drive progress via the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), which the Forum

manages.

In a call to action, JP Suarez, GFSI board chairman and senior vice president and general counsel, international division, Wal-Mart Stores, said GFSI was only as good as its participants. The

initiative should not be an expensive luxury that only the biggest companies can afford.

“We need to reach the small suppliers and figure out how to make GFSI relevant,” he said.

Safe food is the producer’s responsibility

It is inappropriate to shift responsibility for food safety onto consumers, academics told the 2010 Food Safety Conference in  Washington DC, USA, yesterday (3 February 2010).

While acknowledging consumer education about cooking and food storage should improve, Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University and author of Safe Food – The Politics of Food Safety, said to focus on consumers as the weak link in the supply chain was to ignore the fact most of the recent outbreaks of food borne illness in the US came from pre-cooked, fresh or ready-to-eat products.

“It’s not the consumer’s fault,” Nestle told the conference. “They need safe food to begin with.”

The opinion was also voiced by Lise Korsten, professor and plant pathologist at the University of Pretoria, South Africa and professor Doug Powell, associate professor of food safety at Kansas State University and founder of Barf Blog.

The blog, which aims to spread awareness of food safety issues, often by amusing shock tactics, receives 20,000 visitors a day. Powell had a message for food handlers: “Dude, wash your hands!”

Research from Nielsen showed that consumers, too, place the primary responsibility for safe food at the door of manufacturers and producers.

In an online poll of consumer perception of food safety in 54 countries, 68% of consumers said manufacturers had the main responsibility. Some 23% believed the onus was on the government to regulate, inspect and enforce policy, while only 8% blamed retailers. There was little correlation in the survey between geographic region or market maturity and the answers given, except when it came to consumers’ willingness to pay a premium for safe food.

Here, those most willing to pay were clustered in developing markets, while consumers in developed markets were the least willing to pay extra for safe food.

“The food retailer is not seen as the prima donna,” said Nielsen director of retail insights Europe Jean-Jacques Vandenheede, presenting the results, “the manufacturer is.”