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Karil Kochenderfer, LINKAGES
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GFSI at 20 YEARS: Time for a Reboot?

By Karil Kochenderfer
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Karil Kochenderfer, LINKAGES

The marketplace has experienced dramatic changes that were barely on the horizon 20 years ago—by that, I mean mobile phones, Instagram, Facebook, climate change, consumer transparency, globalization, novel new products delivered to your doorstep and now COVID-19, too.

I write from a perspective of both pride and concern. I had the privilege of representing GFSI in North America and helping the organization expand beyond Europe as new food safety laws were implemented in both the United States and Canada.

Questionable Utility of Multiple, Redundant and Costly Certifications

However, I also sympathized with small and medium food companies that struggled with minimal resources and food safety expertise to understand GFSI and then to become certified not once, but multiple times for multiple customers. GFSI’s mantra, “Once Certified, Accepted Everywhere,” was far from their GFSI reality…or, frankly, the reality of many food companies. My concern was not insignificant. The food industry is populated by a majority of small businesses, each seeking that one big break that could possibly, maybe open up access to retail shelves. Their confusion about being audited and certified to one standard was significant. Certification to multiple and redundant standards presented a daunting and costly endeavor for these start-ups. I heard their anxiety in their voices as I served as GFSI’s 1.800 “customer service rep” in North America for years.

Karil Kochenderfer will present “GFSI at 20 Years: Time for a Reboot?” during the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series | Her session takes place on December 17Transparency

In the 20 years since GFSI was established, the world has become much more transparent. Today, entire industries operate on open, international, consensus-based ISO management standards in far bigger and more complex sectors than the food sector (e.g., the automotive, airline and medical device sectors). And, in the 20 years since GFSI was established, an ISO food safety management system standard has been developed that is now used widely throughout the world with more than 36,000 certifications (i.e., ISO 22000).

Auditing and certifying a facility to a single, international, public standard would enhance GFSI transparency. It also would help to hurdle government concerns related to the lack of public input into the development of private standards, enabling private certifications like GFSI to be used efficiently as a compliance tool—a benefit to both government and food interests and to consumer health, safety and trade.

New Technologies

Many new technologies, such blockchain, artificial intelligence, sensors and the Internet of Things are being heralded widely now as well, particularly for businesses with complex supply-chains like those in like the fast-moving food and retail sectors. The benefits of these technologies are predicated on the use of a common digital language…or standard. Multiple and diverse standards, like GFSI, complicate the use of these new technologies, which is why FDA is examining the harmonizing role of standards and data management in its proposed New Era of Smarter Food Safety.

Sustainable Development

Today, food safety often is managed in tandem with other corporate environment, health and safety programs. The Consumer Goods Forum, which oversees GFSI, should take a similar approach and merge GFSI with its sustainability, and health and wellness programs to help CGF members meet their existing commitments to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to encourage others to do the same. Here, once again, adoption of a single, transparent ISO standard can help. Adoption of ISO 22000 as the single and foundational standard for GFSI makes it easy to layer on and comply with other ISO standards—for example, for the environment (ISO 14000), worker protection (ISO 45001), energy efficiency (ISO 50001) and information/data security (ISO 27001)— and to simultaneously meet multiple SDGs.


As I write, the COVID pandemic rages. It may re-align global supply chains and set back global trade temporarily, but the unprecedented rise in consumer incomes and corresponding decrease in poverty around the world attests to the importance of the global trade rules established by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Among these rules is a directive to governments (and businesses) to use common standards to facilitate trade, which uniquely recognizes ISO standards as well as those of Codex and OIE. When trade disputes arise, food interests that use ISO 22000 are hands-down winners, no questions asked. So, why use many and conflicting private standards?

Supply Chain Efficiency

Finally, ISO 22005, part of the ISO 22000 family of food management standards, also is aligned with GS1 Standards for supply-chain management, used throughout the food and retail sectors in North America and globally to share information between customers and suppliers. GS1 is most well known for being the administrators of the familiar U.P.C. barcode. The barcode and other “data carriers” provide visibility into the movement of products as well as information about select attributes about those products—including whether they have been certified under GFSI. Both GS1 and ISO GS1 standards are foundational to the new technologies that are being adopted in the fast-moving food, consumer products, healthcare and retail sectors both in the United States and globally. That alignment puts a spotlight on safety, sustainability, mobility, efficiency and so much more.

Focus Less on the Change, More on the Outcome

My proposal will surely set tongues in motion. Proposals to switch things up generally do. Disruption has become the norm, however, and food businesses are prized for their agility and responsiveness to the endless changes in today’s fast-moving marketplace. Still, ISO and Codex standards already are embedded in the GFSI benchmark so what I’m proposing should not be so disruptive and no one scheme or CPO should benefit disproportionately. And, less differentiation in the standard of industry performance will compel scheme or certification owners to shift their focus away from compliance with their standards and audit checklists to working with customers to truly enhance and establish “food safety-oriented cultures.” If they do, all of us emerge as winners.

The New Normal?

Around us new food businesses are emerging just as old businesses reinvent theirs. Trucks now operate as restaurants and athletes deliver dinner on bicycles. For a long time, we’ve operated businesses based on 20th century models that don’t resonate in the 21st century world. Are we at an inflection point, with both small and large businesses paying for costly and inefficient practices that no longer apply, and is it time for GFSI to change?

I welcome your thoughts. I truly do. Better, let’s discuss on a webinar or video call of your choosing. I look forward to connecting.

Submit questions you want Karil to answer during her session at the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series in the Comments section below.


COVID-19 Leads FDA to Extend VQIP Application Period to July 31

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Last week FDA announced the extension of the application period for importers that want to participate in the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program for FY 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in travel restrictions and advisories that have hampered efforts by accredited Certification Bodies (CBs) to both conduct the onsite regulatory audits and issue certifications to foreign entities, which are required by the VQIP application.

The application portal will stay open until July 31.

VQIP is a voluntary fee-based program that was established under FSMA. Approved applicants are granted an expedited review and import of human and animal foods into the United States if they prove they are achieving and maintaining a high level of control over their supply chains from a safety and security standpoint. Eligibility criteria includes ensuring facilities of foreign suppliers are certified by a CB that has been accredited via FDA’s Accredited Third-Party Certification Program.

Expanding GMO Labeling Requirements in the U.S.

By James Cook
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In November 2014, the people of Oregon and Colorado voted for mandatory labeling of foods produced from genetically modified organisms (GMO). These initiatives from Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, and subsequently Oregon and Colorado speak of the public’s desire to know what they are eating, a mistrust of the industry, and a lack of action from the Federal government.

Currently in the U.S.. there is no Federal law that requires the labeling of GMO derived products, providing the product is not significantly different to the non-GMO product, or different in use, nutrition, or includes an unexpected allergen. However, FDA has produced voluntary labeling guidance on GMO and non-GMO. While many companies have option to label their products as non-GMO, there hasn’t been the same desire by the industry to label their products as GMO.

Unwanted events have caused the public to believe that the industry cannot be trusted and that the government is not doing everything it can to protect the public. One case involved a strain of GMO corn (Starlink) that was only approved for animal feed and fuel, because it cause a reaction in people. Unfortunately, this strain of corn did end up in the human food supply chain, causing the U.S. price of corn to plummet on the world market, and dozens of products to be recalled.

Another case involved the development of GMO wheat. T his was a product that foreign markets had no desire for. There, after field trials from 2000 to 2003, the company that created the GMO wheat dropped the project despite FDA completing its food safety consultation on it in 2004.

In 2013, this strain of GMO wheat was found growing in a field in Oregon. After extensive review, the USDA completed an investigation and published its findings on September 26, 2014, concluding that it was the same GMO variety created by the aforementioned company. The report added that the wheat had not come from local field trials, and that they were “unable to determine exactly how the GMO wheat was found growing in Montana. That investigation is still ongoing.

Oregon mandatory labeling

One of the counties of Oregon, Jackson County, has banned GMO crops. Oregon was one of the states involved in the unwanted GMO wheat event, and has voted no to changing its existing law to require the labeling of raw and packaged foods produced entirely, or partially by genetic engineering. This law would have required retailers to properly label raw product as “genetically engineered.”

Manufacturers of pre-packaged foods would have to place labels clearly and conspicuously stating “produced with genetic engineering” or “partially produced with genetic engineering” on the front or back of the package. These phrases did not have to be part of the product name, nor did the manufacturer have to identify which ingredient or ingredients are derived from genetic engineering. No company would have been subject to injunction or fines, if the pre-packaged foods have less than 0.9 percent genetic engineered materials by the total weight of the package or were unknowingly, or unintentionally, contaminated with genetically engineered material. For pre-packaged products, retails would have been only responsible for their own labeled products. This would not apply to animal feed or food served in restaurants.

Colorado Right to Know Act

A law proposed in Colorado but also not passed, dealt with labeling requirements for products derived for genetic modification. Had it been passed, it would have been effective from July 1, 2016. Its main aim was that packaged and raw agriculture products derived from GM would have to have been labelled as “produced with genetic engineering.” The exemptions from the labeling requirements were:

  • Animal food or drink,
  • Chewing gum,
  • Alcoholic beverages,
  • Food containing one or more processing aids,
  • Enzymes produced or derived from genetic engineering,
  • Food in restaurants and food produced for immediate consumption not packaged for resale,
  • Food for animals not derived from genetic engineering but fed feed or injected with a drug derived from genetic engineering, and
  • Medically prescribed food. 

Food would not have been considered misbranded if it had been produced by someone unaware that the seed or food was derived from genetic engineering, or that it was either unknowingly or unintentionally co-mingled with genetically engineering seed or food.

The Grocery Manufacturers’ Association (GMA), a major U.S. industry association that is against the individual state laws regarding GMO labeling, supports the HR 4432 Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act introduced by the House of Representatives’ Mike Pompeo and G. K. Butterfield. This proposed law would not require products with GMO ingredients to be labelled as such, unless there are safety issues or substantial differences between them and the non-GMO ingredient, but it will set specific requirements for GMO free claims and require FDA to develop requirements for Natural claims. While this law was introduced into Congress in April 2014, it hasn’t progressed to the point that anyone believes that it will signed into law anytime soon. Vermont is still the only state to have passed an unencumbered GMO law. Currently, laws in Maine and Connecticut with there requirements still not met, will not be enacted, at least, at this time. The state of Vermont is being sued with the GMO labeling debate in the U.S. still continuing even though the European Union has required labeling of GMOs since 1997. To date, there are more than 60 countries, as well as the EU, requiring labeling of GMOs.

This article originally appeared in SGS Hot Source Food Newsletter 6. For further information, please visit www.FoodSafety.SGS.com.

Want to learn more about GMO Labeling? Register for this complimentary webinar, on April 16, 2015, which will discuss

  • Next steps for state and federal labeling laws,
  • An update on the status of the non-GMO supply chain and certification programs,
  • Where organic fits in the non-GMO discussion, and
  • What are the marketplace challenges of going non-GMO?