Food Safety Together

By: Mary Lou Valdez and Julie Moss Ph.D., R.D.

In early December, we represented the FDA in Cape Town, South Africa, at the third annual conference of the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). FDA has been a strong supporter of the GFSP since 2012, when it was launched by the World Bank and Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., gave the keynote address at the first conference. FDA provides the Partnership with financial support and technical expertise.

Julie Moss (left) and Mary Lou Valdez (right)

Julie Moss (left) and Mary Lou Valdez (right)

The World Bank is uniquely positioned to facilitate the GFSP and create a “big tent” where all parties in the global supply chain can work together to help ensure that all food products are safe for consumers. While government agencies like FDA develop standards and regulations, and provide regulatory oversight, it is the food industry, not the government, which produces safe food for consumers. To be successful in improving global food safety, we need to create partnerships across nations and sectors. The unique role of GFSP is to enable and catalyze a clear strategic direction to strengthen food safety systems and supply chains globally in ways that can only be achieved or enhanced collectively.  The GFSP brings together government, industry, academic, consumer and international organizations, providing a unique and valuable opportunity for all of these parties to cooperate in new and creative ways to improve food safety. This requires coordination to focus our efforts and avoid duplicating each other’s work.

Attendees at the 2014 Food Safety Global Conference.

Attendees at the 2014 Food Safety Global Conference.

During the conference, we acknowledged progress on many ongoing food safety activities (e.g., needs assessment progress in Zambia and Good Aquaculture Practices training in Malaysia, among others) and we moved forward in building a framework for a long-term strategy to collectively support and sustain investment in food safety systems. Yet, there is still much work ahead for 2015, which will be a critical year for the GFSP, as we will further refine our strategy and look forward to making great strides in key GFSP initiatives, including work to strengthen food safety systems in China and Zambia. Success in protecting the safety of the world’s food requires a new paradigm with new partnerships across nations and sectors. Moving forward, we intend to work to expand and promote this valuable partnership in the coming year to continue to strengthen the global food safety net for all consumers.

At FDA, we recognize that today’s food supply chain is global, complex, and interconnected. Because the U.S. imports half of its fresh fruits and 80 percent of its seafood, our efforts to protect the U.S. food supply must be global, and we must build strong partnerships to create a world-wide product safety net to protect public health. GFSP is an example of our ongoing efforts to build partnerships as we aim to prevent unsafe products from entering the market, no matter where the products come from or where they are consumed.

Mary Lou Valdez is FDA’s Associate Commissioner for International Programs

Julie Moss, Ph.D., R.D., is Deputy Director, International Affairs Staff in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Improving the World through Improved Food Safety

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Food safety may seem an unusual issue for a lending institution created to encourage growth and reduce poverty in developing countries.

Photo courtesy of the World Bank

The World Bank, however, rightly notes that food safety is not only about public health, as important as that is. It is also critical for economic development, expanded market access and trade, and ultimately for the alleviation of poverty. This week in Paris, the World Bank held its first Global Food Safety Partnership Conference and I was immensely pleased to be able to participate.

The Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) is a major milestone on the road to protecting the health of all people in our increasingly interconnected world. Participants represent governments, industry, academia, international organizations and technical bodies.  Among other things, both public and private members are committed to working collectively for stronger food safety systems and strategies.

FDA’s primary mission is to protect the supply of food and medical products in the United States. Increasingly, though, that mission cannot be carried out completely within our borders. Given that we import half of the fresh fruits and 80 percent of the seafood we consume, to name just two commodities, our efforts must be global.

As I noted during a keynote address, the overarching theme of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is prevention. The law acknowledges the global movement toward stronger food safety standards and higher assurances that standards are being met, which is a driver of FDA’s transformed import strategy. For FDA, it is essential that we contribute to and rely on capable foreign food safety oversight. Strengthening these food safety systems is the key to maintaining the integrity of the global supply chain. 

Serendipitously, our self-interest coincides with a humanitarian imperative.

Photo courtesy of the World Bank

Up to a third of people in the developing world suffer food and water-borne illnesses every year. More than 2.2 million each year, mostly children, die of those illnesses. Farmers and other food-related enterprises in those countries have little hope of competing in the marketplace as long as their products are suspect.

GFSP is an innovative example of the kind of cooperation we need around the world. It is bringing together food producers and manufacturers, academics, regulators and industry representatives, as well as lenders and borrowers. We all have a collective interest in food safety, and a shared responsibility. When any country improves, everyone wins.

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.