The Global Food Safety Conference brought over 600 food safety experts and industry leaders to Washington last week to discuss the future of food safety in our increasingly global economy. The conference had to close up shop a day early due to the historic snow storm that hit us here in DC, but the first two days produced plenty of soundbites for all parties involved. In addition to quality control folks and executives from food producers and retailers, such food safety heavyweights as new Deputy Commissioner for Food Michael Taylor and widely read author/academic Marion Nestle were on hand.
One interesting remark from Taylor was in regard to the role of (private) third party certification. He said: "It shows our interest in figuring out how certification used by the private sector can help the FDA. I don’t think it can be a substitute for regulatory oversight but it can certainly support delivering compliance.” Seems right to me. History shows that these certifications are vulnerable to being co-opted by industry into not much more than marketing tools, and it's nice to know that the top echelons at FDA are appropriately wary of their usefulness as replacements for effective regulation.
My favorite quote from the event comes from Walmart V.P. and General Counsel JP Suarez, who noted that: "Food safety should not be a competitive advantage." Here's to that! Food safety should be a given in this country, not a value-added service at certain stores or restaurants. Whatever your personal feelings about Walmart, it's always good to have the retailer on your side when it comes to things like this. After all, if the USDA tells you your plant is in violation, you hire a lawyer and appeal. If Walmart tells you to clean up or risk losing their business, you don't think twice.
More on the conference from Food Safety News and from the Consumer Goods Forum, who hosted the event.