Over 600 food safety experts and industry leaders from 40 countries convened in Washington, DC last week for the Global Food Safety Conference.  The three day event, sponsored by the Consumer Goods Forum, discussed the future of assuring food safety in the globalizing food supply chain, and emphasized the role the Global Food Safety Initiative can play in harmonizing food safety schemes.

“Consumers want to be able to trust the products they buy,” said Food Marketing Institute (FMI) CEO and president Leslie Sarasin in her welcoming remarks.  Sarasin emphasized the need for collaboration and connectivity in international food safety efforts to meet U.S. consumer demand, which currently includes an increasing portion of imported foods. “It’s stretched our food safety system thin,” noted Sarasin.

Connectivity was a prevailing theme at the event–the official theme was ‘Connecting the Pieces’–Jean-Mark Saubade, Managing Director of the Consumer Goods Forum addressed the conference by calling industry leaders, policy makers, doctors, professors, consumers, trade associations, lobbyists, and others to work together in order to make food safer for consumers all across the world.

In collaboration with Saubade and Sarasin, Pamela Bailey, President and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association trade association also spoke about the importance of working together to ensure safe food. 

Though insiders from Washington may consider Sarasin and Bailey competing forces for grocery store trade association membership, both women stressed the importance of working together for the survival of the industry and consumers.  The three presenters touched on the importance of safety and inspection along each step of the food process and how creating a forum for open dialog between industries, like the GFSC, will hopefully lead to new ideas and advanced technologies to help the food industry.

Speakers came from a wide array of backgrounds, and addressed a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from public-private collaboration to optimizing in-store hygiene to managing food recalls. Speaker JP Suarez, senior vice president and general counsel to Wal-Mart Stores gave his presentation just before New York University Professor Marion Nestle, an accomplished author and expert in food politics.  Both offered a very different perspective on the state of the international food safety system.

Nestle was highly critical of the mass-production and centralization of food and safety hazards in the current system, while Saurez focused on the need to harmonize and converge food safety standards. “Food safety should not be a competitive advantage,” said Saurez before the conference.

As the conference progressed, participants attended various symposia and break-out talks where they either listened to lecturers or worked in small groups to brainstorm food safety-related ideas.  Smaller policy breakfasts and dinner events were also held in order to facilitate one-one-one interaction and to provide networking opportunities.

Current Food Safety Czar, and recently promoted Deputy Commissioner of Foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Michael Taylor wrapped up the conference–which ended a day early due to the impending blizzard–with the closing keynote address. Taylor emphasized the need for government and industry cooperation. “We don’t make food, we can’t make it safe,” said Taylor. “I really do believe we’re all in this together.”

The next Global Summit, another food safety conference also hosted by the Consumer Goods Forum will be held in London this June 22-25.