Last week, GFSI celebrated the first World Food Safety Day in conjunction with Codex Alimentarius. As collaboration between the two organisations continues to grow, GFSI is becoming quite fluent in Codex lingo. One acronym you will hear especially frequently is CCFICS: the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Certification and Inspection. Like GFSI, this Codex subsidiary body concerns themselves with all issues that arise when food crosses borders, from the recognition of third-party assurance certification programmes to the possibility of fraud.
Today on the GFSI Experts Series, we meet two guests with insider knowledge on CCFICS and Codex: Fran Freeman, Chair of CCFICS, and Himanshu Gupta, member of the GFSI Codex Committee. Fran and Himanshu sat down with GFSI Senior Manager Anne Gerardi to explain how the organisations are melding their agendas to enhance trade and provide safe food. Watch their interviews on GFSI Youtube or read the transcript below.
Anne: Fran, what are your roles at Codex and in Australia?
Fran Freeman: I currently head up the export division for the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, so I'm responsible for regulating our exports that go out to over 100 countries; major products like meat and dairy. I also wear the hat of being Chair of CCFICS, which is a real honour to be able to do. I've taken over that role and really enjoyed [it]. It's a very complimentary one to Australia, strongly reliant on international standards and rules by system, and CCFICS plays such an important role in having all of the countries of the world participating in something that's for good for inspection and certification for trade.
Anne: Himanshu, what are your roles at Codex and at GFSI?
Himanshu Gupta: I work for Nestlé in the Global Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Team, and I am also part of the GFSI Codex Committee. So I'm here for this GFSI Conference, one of the leading food safety platforms. The collaborative attitude, or the collaborative way GFSI works, manifests nowhere better than in this conference, where you have all the stakeholders: manufacturers, stakeholders, suppliers, retailers, academia. We can talk about food safety and discuss best practices and knowledge sharing.
Anne: Is it important for GFSI to be engaged in Codex?
Fran: Absolutely. In all the [Codex] meetings I've gone to, having engagement from the broader sectors who are influenced and impacted by the standards and guidelines that people develop — it's critical to have that input. We've had industry groups, we've had consumer groups, we've had GFSI representing a body; I think it's all critical. Because you need to make it work. I think my other observation would be that in my job you have rules and laws that you need to follow, but you actually need to be able to implement them sensibly. And that's sort of, for me, what CCFICS helps countries do.
Anne: What is CCFICS, and why is it important for GFSI?
Himanshu: CCFICS is the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export and Certification Systems. CCFICS works on various agendas. Just to name a few: recognition of third party certification systems, system equivalence; and they may start to work on food fraud. So this gives all the reason why GFSI has to closely work on monitoring the work of CCFICS.
CCFICS is one of the subsidiary bodies of Codex. Their role is consumer protection and to facilitate trade, which very well goes with the vision of GFSI of safe food for consumers everywhere. And [GFSI's] mission of minimising the food safety risks by making the convergence on the food safety management systems [means that] they're very well placed to contribute to the CCFICS discussion.
Anne: What are the objectives of CCFICS, and what have been some key topics of the past year?
Fran: CCFICS is really reliant on having safe food and fair trade. In a nutshell, that's really what it's all about. And the work programme that we have, it's really got a couple of important elements at the moment going. Voluntary third party assurance has obviously been a critical subject that we've talked this week about at GFSI, and I think you've seen a lot of interest from many governments and many private companies who want to make this work better. We've all got scarce resources, we're trying to manage risk. How can we do that together and focus the risk [management] where we need to?
Other important stuff that we've got going on is obviously systems equivalence. Again, you're trying to make sure you don't reinvent the wheel every time. You need to reassure other countries that you've got the systems in place. So that's a really important part of work. And our new bit of work that I think is really going to be a bit of a game changer is the food fraud and food authenticity and integrity work. That, to me, is much earlier in the discussion of where we're up to, but I think every country's got some skin in the game on that one. There's an electronic working group that's been set up, and I think it'll be interesting to see how quickly we get the ball rolling on that work. I think every country wants to see that matter sorted.
I think it's an interesting one, and everyone's struggle: what sits in Codex, what sits in CCFICS, what sits outside of that. There are, for example, criminal elements that are not matters for CCFICS. But I think, for us, focusing on setting up some guidance for countries, for food fraud and authenticity, will be critical. It's a really important piece of work.
Anne: What has GFSI achieved during the last year with CCFICS?
Himanshu: I think the good work that GFSI has done with CCFICS is [participating in] the main plenary meeting in the Codex, but they are also participating in the working groups, the electronic and the physical working group meetings. GFSI, based upon their experience on voluntary third party assurance schemes, is sharing their experiences, learnings and guidance, and that is helping to build up a consensus among the members which will enable the CCFICS to achieve a document which will be based upon a consensus. Definitely, that is what everybody is envisioning.
Anne: What are the next steps for the voluntary third party assurance work at CCFICS?
Fran: Well, we made it to step five in Brisbane, in October last year. I think people were a bit nervous. It was a high-stakes game there at the end, but I think we got there. What you saw was a lot of willingness from people. They know it has a real role in the future for trade, what is it that people are willing to live with? I think different governments have different appetites to risk in managing this. The reality is we've now got to an important point in actually getting to the next important stage to sign off on this work, hopefully next year.
Anne: What do you like about chairing CCFICS?
Fran: I think it's a real challenge. It's very vibrant. You've got so many different countries participating who all have their own pressures and constraints, and you obviously want to bring everyone along who can actually use the guidance. For many countries, particularly developing countries, it's critical to actually have that resource to call up on. For us, it's go-to work for everyone. And so as chair, it's about making sure all the voices are heard. It's a consensus organisation. Yes, there will be differences. There are always going to be differences. But as a former trade negotiator, as the Chair, my job is to actually hear what everyone has to say and see if there is a middle ground that everyone can live with.
I think another important thing at CCFICS that we tried is the webinars. That, for me, is also the future of this. Not everyone can get on a plane. I live in Australia. It takes me 30 hours to get to Nice. There's only so many times a year I can do that, in terms of the rest of my responsibilities. But there is a cost for countries, as well. And so I think having technology facilitate more engagement is the future, for CCFICS but for other committees as well.
To learn more about the partnership between GFSI and Codex, watch our previous episodes with Codex Alimentarius Commission Chairperson Guilherme da Costa and Vice-Chair Steve Wearne. Follow #GFSIexperts on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn and subscribe to GFSI News to make sure you do not miss an episode!