I have been serving as GFSI Director for 3 years now but I’ve been familiar with GFSI since it was created. I’m delighted with the path GFSI has taken. It has a unique position leading collaboration in food safety across the private and public sectors around the world. It’s the only organisation unifying manufacturers, retailers, regulators and other food industry stakeholders under a common goal: safe food for consumers everywhere.
In 2018 GFSI turns 18 years old. We’ve come a long way and achieved a great deal but we still have a lot to do. As we welcome in the New Year, let’s reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going.
It Started with Benchmarking
The GFSI mission it a dual one aimed at helping businesses – both global and local – and consumers. Our aim is to help member companies with import/export, help reduce trade barriers and improve harmonisation of food safety regulations which can be massive barriers to trade.
It all began with benchmarking; creating a common understanding of what a good food safety system looks like. Today's Benchmarking Requirements provide a common frame of reference when assessing various certification programmes, creating a "food safety passport" of sorts.
But it’s no good to have such a tool if no one is using it. One of the key moments in GFSI’s history came in 2007 when seven major retailers – Tesco, Wal-Mart, Metro, Carrefour, Migros, Royal Ahold and Delhaize – announced acceptance of the GFSI benchmarked food safety certification programmes.
We don’t want to write the bible on food safety. We want to create something practical and actionable with an operational focus.
Sometimes I ask myself why GFSI has taken off the way it has. A major reason is that it fulfilled a real need. Retailers and manufacturers have so many suppliers that it’s hard to know which certifications to accept. They needed clarification and guidance on what’s acceptable. In fact, I was at Carrefour at this time and I remember this key milestone distinctly. Today, the growing spectrum of stakeholders across the supply chain to embrace the GFSI approach speaks to this core value.
Growth Through Learning and Continuous Collaboration
Another reason for GFSI’s success is that it’s not competitive. We are not here to benefit one company but everyone. It’s a global collaboration.
Everything that has been built has been built with the involvement of all the stakeholders. GFSI is not a small silo producing tools and guidance for the industry. Everyone is invited to take part in the Technical Working Groups (TWG) to build these tools. GFSI is about bringing the whole industry together, drawing on expertise from multiple sources and putting this expertise together for the benefit of everyone.
Amalgamating expertise, building consensus and creating guidance is good but it’s worthless if you don’t share it. Because we believe food safety is a non-competitive issue, we put everything we build at the service of the industry at large. It’s about best-practice sharing. From local to global events and conferences, GFSI provides the forum for the industry to meet and share knowledge and learnings together.
Capacity Building in Global Markets and Fostering Public-Private Partnerships
In 2008, work began on the Global Markets Programme to support small suppliers. This was followed in 2011 by launching the Global Markets Programme for manufacturing. This reflects the pragmatic approach that, I’m proud to say, GFSI has maintained to this day. Yes, it’s about implementing stringent food safety standards and systems but we also recognised that not everyone can be certified in one go. We need to support the smaller facilities. This also solves a problem for buyers who may be sourcing in areas where it’s very difficult to find certified suppliers.
Today the Global Markets Programme has been hailed by many as one of GFSI's premier contributions to improving food safety. It is adopted by operations and even governments around the globe as a curriculum to promote capability building.
This government and public sector adoption is rare. GFSI is in a unique position to lead this cross-sectoral global conversation and the dialogue has really been picking up speed! This began with interest from Canada, China and The Netherlands but the signature of MoUs with China in July 2016 was a key moment. Each time we sign an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) is a step forward. It demonstrates strong collaboration between the GFSI community and the regulators and builds a pathway between the theory of regulation and the reality of implementation.
In more recent history we’ve seen great success working with the GFSI community and regulators in Mexico and Argentina. In March 2017 GFSI formed a first-time partnership with the Mexican government food safety agency SENASICA. More recently, in November 2017, a Letter of Intent was signed with the Argentinian Minister of Agribusiness.
Each time we sign an MoU for a new public-private collaboration is a step forward. It builds a pathway between the theory of regulation and the reality of implementation.
Looking Forward to The Future
We’ve done some great work over the last eighteen years and we’re excited for what the future holds. In short, this looks like more of the same; the same vision but with new strategies to keep up with a rapidly changing industry.
We will be launching Version 7.2 of Benchmarking Requirements in March this year in parallel to the Global Food Safety Conference. Work will continue on future versions of Benchmarking Requirements to raise the bar on global food safety.
Knowledge sharing will continue on both a local and global scale. GFSI Focus Days have been held around the world and our Global Food Safety Conference, in its 17th edition, is heading to Tokyo for the first time.
If you want to a make an impact on a global scale, regionalisation is critical. It’s impossible to lead this kind of collaboration solely from our headquarters in Paris. Regionalisation and Local Groups are key to future success. This goes for local Focus Days as well which are set to continue.
Continuing to foster public-private partnerships is high on the agenda. In the past our primary strategy was harmonisation through private collaboration. Now the focus is much more on working with the public sector via governments in multiple countries. Going forward one of our key objectives is to develop partnerships with more countries. We will be announcing more of these at GFSC 2018, so stay tuned! We’re also planning to sign agreement with IFC (International Finance Committee), a branch of The World Bank, where they will use the Global Markets Programme for capacity building.
The conference is key for bringing together experts from both from public and private sector. It’s a place to meet and do business where government officials and regulators mingle with retailers, manufacturers and other organisations. Governments rarely interact with their peers but GFSC facilitates this. In Tokyo we’ll see the return of Government to Government (G2G) and Government to Business (G2B) meetings.
The conference is the place to be for food safety practitioners and food industry experts. To get all the latest updates about GFSI, interact with our Board and see learn more about where we’re heading, be sure to join us for the GFSI & You session.
With all these successes under our belt and plans to continue in future, it’s clear that GFSI is not a “nice to have”. The food industry is complex and it’s highly regulated. GFSI has made food safety simpler and reduced the need to keep reinventing the wheel. The GFSI approach has been a success due to being more efficient, non-competitive and built in collaboration with all stakeholders. All decisions are made for the benefit of food safety, not for one company or individual. We must keep this in mind as we continue our work together.
We don’t want to write the bible on food safety. We want to create something practical and actionable with an operational focus. Together we can realise our shared vision of safe food for consumers everywhere. Here’s to the next eighteen years. And many more to follow.
This post was written and contributed by:
The Consumer Goods Forum