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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

GFSC 2016 Beyond the Fancy Talk: What exactly is GFSI contributing “Towards a world in which safe food is truly accessible to all”?

Have you read the GFSC 2016 Round-Up? A link is provided below.

Even the astute can be swept away to unintended places by euphoria. 

I did not expect the most crucial elements of global food safety management and concerns to be adequately covered during the GFSC 2016 and I wished to be proven wrong. I did not attend, so I'll ask those who were there. Did you hear anything about plans to address global inequality in food safety assurance? What perception did you take away from the conference about how GLOBAL the Initiative really was? Never mind other practical difficulties faced by the less privileged parts of the world, are even the certification schemes truly accessible to ALL? Did you hear anything at the conference about how the Global Food Safety Initiative certification schemes were going to be administered in the future among the less-privileged groups in the global community?

When the “GFSC delegates were called upon to ‘make the change’ towards achieving the global food safety vision”, what exactly was meant by this call? What change and how? Was a re-focus for GFSI considered? As I have challenged regarding this crucial requirement for the assurance of safe food in the post Where Water is Goldwhat is the Global Initiative doing about these situations that are counter to assuring the safety of water and the safety of food? Addressing such situations has never been the intention of the GFSI may be the argument. What exactly then is the GFSI intention and the intentions of conferences like the GFSC 2016. Is an incomplete provision of needed solutions the intention? Is the global community to be content with GFSI solutions whereby assessors go to places that can afford to pay for the assessments while other places that also provide food for the global community struggle along?

It is easy to be caught up in the euphoria while in shiny conference halls. Once outside of the halls, we find that the realities are not as rosy and euphoric as the presentations. Perhaps there was some recognition of this fact in this Round-Up comment: “GFSI has achieved many things in its 15 years but it has not created a zero risk environment. Risk has an unfortunate and unwelcome offspring called crisis, which will always be a part of the working life for many of the delegates.” What exactly are the “many things” that GFSI achieved? Being a Global FOOD SAFETY Initiative, do any of the many accomplishments include any quantifiable reduction in food safety failures around the globe? If not, has it been a failing initiative and will the GFSC 2016 provided any hope that such reduction will be tracked and reported?

Amid the euphoria expressed in the GFSC 2016 Round-Up, some assumptive conclusions may have been drawn as reflected in this comment: "The message from the regulators was clear; certifications to schemes recognised by GFSI are now considered in their risk assessments. It appears that the message from the regulators was not sufficiently understood. The intention of including this statement in the Round-Up is obvious. It aimed to ascribe a unique consideration, presented as if there had been regulatory sanction, of "certifications to schemes recognised by GFSI". In my search, I have not found any regulators that have unequivocally sanctioned these certifications. Even if that was the case, evidence shows that such a sanction would be a serious mistake. The acknowledgement that "GFSI . . .has not created a zero risk environment. . .clearly supports the caution against such a regulatory sanction. It is time we moved beyond these kinds of assumptive inferences that merely mask realities. Rosy claims about third party audits and certifications have often been called into question.

Recommended Re-direction of Focus:

I propose a revised focus of the Global Food Safety Initiative. I propose a focus that turns from certification schemes to practical solutions. Let’s have a GFSI that provides the know-how to places with poor water supply for the development of sufficient potable water resources. Instead of the development of more assessment schemes, let GFSI get involved in the actual development of scientific and technological solutions to help food operations. In short, instead of making operations pay for certification audits and certificates, let them use that money to obtain tools and needed operating resources.Instead of the current hands-off mode of merely criticizing or praising the performance of operation based on generic audit templates, let GFSI actually roll up its sleeves and help operations in providing answers to challenges that are unique to each operation. GFSI has already  led to the creation of a pool of field collaborators in the forms of scheme owners, certification bodies and auditors. These could all be easily re-assigned to do more helpful things than the certification of operations.Let the technical know-how within the GFSI be put to practical use (hands-on). The GFSC 2016 Round-Up, as much as I have seen, did not provide any statement pointing in these directions. Perhaps future GFSC events would.

GFSC 2016 Round-Up:
Posted by Felix Amiri
Felix Amiri is currently the chair of GCSE-Food & Health Protection, and a sworn SSQA advocate.

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