Tokyo in the morning thrums with activity: fishermen cart their catch to market, workers rush to the office, students squeeze into the trains. Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba, the venue for this year's Global Food Safety Conference 2018, was just as active.
By a quarter past eight, the basement ballrooms were full of delegates ready to take in a day jam-packed with events. This busy Wednesday — perhapsalways the fullest twenty-four hours of the GFSI Conference week — allowed delegates to visit every corner of the diverse food safety world.
Special Sessions & Breakouts: From the Big Picture to the Details
The morning began with four simultaneous Special Sessions devoted to some of the biggest trends in food and technology: blockchain and big data. The meeting rooms reverberated with sci-fi visions of a connected future. Delegates soaked up presentations about "smart labels" that unlock the story of a product's journey along the food chain, blockchain-based loyalty programs, and tech that monitors cows 24 hours a day — and knows what to do with the data.
Nearby, the main ballroom was divided into three sections, triptych-style, to house the breakout sessions. These concurrent talks, split into morning and afternoon sets, offered technically specific takes on current food safety issues, a useful alternative to the strategy-based plenaries.
Every attendee could find something to enjoy among the breakouts, which had as broad a range as the Grand Nikko's sprawling international breakfast buffet. Those with a taste for seafood attended the Aquaculture breakout (and presumably sampled the salted whitebait at breakfast). One of the most popular breakouts was "Elevating Food Safety Culture: Global Findings and Practical Experiences", a crash course on the academic models that underpin the study of food safety culture.
Plenary 3: Regulating with Compassion and Collaboration
By the end of the morning networking break, the room dividers magically disappeared and the ballroom was ready for another engaging set of plenaries.
Plenary 3, GFSI Global Markets Programme – A Proven Pathway To Capacity Building & Food Safety Culture, opened in style with a beautifully-produced episode from the GFSI webseries. The video introduced Tatania Chirva, the owner of a small Ukrainian company that produces ready meals for the local market.
Over soothing footage of her hairnetted employees slicing sushi rolls and flipping crepes, Chirva related her experiences with the Global Markets Programme. The programme allowed her to improve food safety and consumer trust, but also increased her sales by over 50%.
Samantha Mah, Marketing Manager of the Malaysia-based health foods brand Wide Tropism, opened the live discussion by sharing her own experience with the Global Markets Programme. After multiple rejections from the retailer AEON, Wide Tropism worked with the Global Markets Programme to improve safety through documentation, batch number tracing, and other measures. Their efforts paid off in 2014, when they went into business with AEON and were also named an ASEAN Best Growth Company of 2016. These inspiring stories exemplified on-the-ground application of food safety culture, a concept that the following speakers would go on to detail.
This morning session featured public sector regulators from nearly every continent on the planet, including Michel Leporati of Chile's ACHIPIA, Dr. Stephen Ostroff and Mike Taylor of the U.S. FDA, Jason Feeney of UK's Food Standards Agency, Xiaoqun HE of China's Registration Department of the Certification and Accreditation Administration, and Bill Jolly of the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries. Only Africa lacked a representative; as Dr. Amare Ayalew posited at yesterday's Pre-Conference Session, Africa represents "a great opportunity" for GFSI outreach.
Moderator Sharanjit Leyl led the speakers through a forward-focused discussion that picked up some threads from the morning's breakouts, including the regulatory role of Big Data and the ways to promote food safety culture in industry. Collaboration became a key theme of the talk. The speakers promoted a collaborative rather than competitive approach for harmonising government and third-party audits, improving the relationship between industry and regulators, and building food safety culture at every level of society.
In the final minutes of the session, Mike Robach, Mitch Chait, and Mike Taylor took the stage to announce the winners of the second annual Global Markets Programme Awards.
This year's awards went to Asociaciones Agroindustriales Serranas of Mexico, The Nuts & Legumes Company of Pakistan, Plantation Industries Limited of Nigeria, and Fuji Foods of Japan.
GFSI recognised these companies for improving their safety standards through the Global Markets Programme while providing authentic, high quality food to their consumers. Mike Robach noted that the selection committee received at least two dozen other applicants of similarly stellar caliber, a great sign for the future of the programme.
Plenary 4: Revolutionising Food Through Technology and Education
From the lunchtime tech talks to the technically specific special sessions, emerging technologies have been an overarching theme of this year's Global Food Safety Conference. Plenary 4, Emerging Technologies in The Food Industry – New Horizons, Challenges and Opportunities, addressed these new developments through a focused, strategic lens.
Martin Weidmann, Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety at Cornell University, opened the plenary with the kind of clear, concise introduction that only a professional educator can provide. Even the complicated concept of whole genome sequencing became accessible through his visual, applied approach. He expressed a contagious confidence in the power of this technology to efficiently detect, trace, and thereby prevent outbreaks of food-based pathogens.
Matilda Ho of Bits & Bites, a venture capital fund based in Shanghai, then took the stage to offer an investor's perspective on emerging food technologies. Like Weidmann, Ms. Ho envisions solving global food issues with new technology. She is confident that China's entrepreneurial community can develop those problem-solving technologies — as long as they can access the necessary investment. Bits & Bites builds connections between investors and entrepreneurs with the long-term goal of creating a more sustainable food system in China and the world.
The session's last speaker, Dr. Yuki Hanyu of Shojinmeat and Integriculture, added a bit of quirk to the technologically savvy session.
Dr. Hanyu is a biochemist currently focused on lab-grown meat and cellular agriculture, but he also has a deepset passion for manga (Japanese comics). Recognising the need to educate the public about the safety of emerging food technologies, his company partnered with a team of artists to produce a manga about their products. They also bring meat-growing kits to schools to give students a hands-on experience of this futuristic technology. If their approach earns Shojinmeat the attention and investment they hope for, Japanese gourmands will be eating lab-grown, clean meat within the decade.
After that appetising talk, the audience was ready to attend the most anticipated social event of the Global Food Safety Conference: the Official Dinner. This year's dinner table was set at Happoen Garden Restaurant where delegates would experience Japan’s culinary expertise first hand and fuel up for one final day of conference content.