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Melanie J Neumann is Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for The Acheson Group
Beltway Beat

From Beijing to Baltimore Integration and Collaboration a Common Theme

By Melanie Neumann, JD, MS
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Melanie J Neumann is Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for The Acheson Group

At the recent Food Safety Summit in Baltimore, the focus was on building an Integrated Food Safety System (IFSS) to aid in implementing FSMA and continued progress along the path of prevention vs. reaction, while at the International Forum on Food Safety (IFoFS) in Beijing, speakers emphasized colla boration for more effective and accurate communication of food safety risks.

In China, the media often over reports on food safety scandals that are actually food quality issues. Consumers are led to believe that food safety is a widespread problem across China and thus have developed a dis trust in the local food industry. At the heart of the matter is multi-stakeholder risk communication. The media is not solely to blame for this problem. Industry and regulators must be more proactive in communicating the true nature of food-related incidents in a way that is more accessible to consumers and the media.

The entrenched culture and government supremacy of China also contributes to the problem. The food industry typically does not communicate openly about food safety risks once the government has spoken out. However, at IFoFS, openness was a key focus, and I think we are at pivotal turning point. Chinese and other Asian companies, along with the Chinese FDA, have begun discussing the criticality and need for risk communication as it relates to food safety and food quality as a means to protect both consumers and food brands. One significant challenge involves instances in which errors in judgment are not quickly admitted when a regulator positions an incident as one of food safety when soon after it’s realized it is a quality issue. It’s safe to assume that regulators may not take the initiative to openly admit the misclassification, and speaking out against these issues may be perceived as openly challenging the government.

I also see the same phenomenon happening in the United States, but the over-reporting, is more so connected to the lawsuits against FDA and topical focus by consumer activist groups. For example, certain activist groups are over-amplifying the purported risks of GMOs, and we’re seeing over-reporting of the pressure and lawsuits against FDA related to FSMA deadlines. Similar to China, these issues are not food “safety” issues per se, but the media’s coverage exacerbates consumer misunderstanding and feeds a belief of widespread adverse food safety issues.

At the Food Safety Summit there was more focus on the integration and collaboration of federal, state, local, and regulatory bodies to implement FSMA. Michael Taylor, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of Foods said that the publication of the final rules will meet the court-mandated deadlines, beginning in August. He added that there is an existing, established network between these groups, but FSMA elevates this association to a new level, because Congress has mandated it. The discussion of interaction and integration raised a question during a Town Hall on “integrating” the federal food agencies into a single agency. The general answer: If we were starting from scratch, we probably wouldn’t create separate agencies, but given that there are two today, there are more effective ways of integration versus completely disrupting the system to create a single-agency. (Sorry David—we know how much you would like a single food agency!)

The common thread? The U.S. and China are calling for increased relationship building and trust between all stakeholders. This common thread sews these two conferences, countries, and the global community together. But the question remains, with the media, consumers, regulators and industry seemingly still at odds with each other in both countries, how do we make this happen?

“Asia Geared to be the Global Leader in Food”

Actions taken by leaders in Asia will determine the course of the food industry worldwide, says industry speaker at GFSI Conference.

Asia Pacific is the fastest growing region in the world; by 2030, two thirds of the global middle class will live in this region. Forecasts show that more than 30 percent of global private consumption will fall within Asia Pacific, and the food industry remains at the center of this explosive growth. The retail value of F&B products will grow to three trillion dollars by 2020. Global and regional food manufacturers understand the value of this opportunity very well, as is reflected in the huge investments being made by food companies in manufacturing, distribution, R&D, innovation and supply chain management.

In order to do justice to the opportunities offered by Asia, the food industry must build on the progress it has already made. According to Pradeep Pant, key note speaker at the Global Food Safety Conference, that concluded in Kuala Lumpur last week.

Pant, a highly experienced senior business leader, now involved in business consulting and education, after over 37 years of experience in the FMCG industry, was previously Executive Vice President and President of Asia Pacific (AP) and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa (EEMEA) for Mondelēz International.

Pant highlights four key points that should be taken into consideration:

  1. Start Local: Food safety is a global challenge, with various international standards setting the benchmark. As with any aspect of business, the application of these global standards needs to be examined and understood through a local lens with the consumer at the forefront. This in turn will lead to sound policy solutions that are relevant to governments, businesses and the consumers they serve. In Asia, several factors need to be considered when building a food safety culture, such as national diets and traditions, as well as religious, political and social values.
  2. Common Purpose: In order to take advantage of the immense opportunities in Asia, Governments, businesses and civil societies will need to have a common purpose – a shared vision. This is the path to partnership – there will be a lot of debate and discussion in establishing a common purpose, but this cornerstone is vital to success.
  3. Shared Responsibility: Once the various stakeholders have defined the common purpose, it is critical that they identify joint initiatives across the technical and cultural dimensions and deploy the necessary resources behind them.
  4. Personal Leadership & Action: Once there is a sense of Shared Purpose, there is a need for the coming together of technical and societal leadership to harness their individual commitments to the consumer. These goals cannot be accomplished in isolation – it takes a whole community to embed a culture of food safety, and responsible leadership to build this community. Leaders in their respective fields, be it technical, political or educational, have a role to articulate a vision of partnership that goes beyond their day-to-day interactions. Effective leaders can and must break down silos and seek out collaboration with new partners across the political and cultural divide. Together, they can foster a climate of trust among consumers, businesses and governments that will provide the foundation of a thriving food safety culture.

Pant called global leaders of the food industry to take charge in making food better and safer for consumers in Asia and beyond.

Source: Food Industry Asia