The third Global Food Safety Forum, being held June 13-14, 2015, in Beijing will explore ideas laid out in a newly released white paper entitled, “Food Safety Technologies: Key Tools for Compliance.” Chapters by authors in both the private and public sectors discuss recent technology development in food safety regulation and how technology intersects with enforcement and compliance. The upcoming event is drawing officials from China’s food and agriculture agencies, along with representatives of research and industry groups, all with an eye toward further exploring that intersection and what it holds for the future. China makes perfect sense as a venue for such a forum since it’s possibly one of the largest food ingredient suppliers to the U.S., said Rick Gilmore, Ph.D., president and CEO of GIC Group, a Virginia-based company specializing in international agricultural and trade issues. “Exporting there is a huge market, but we’re also using their ingredients for imports to the U.S. to third-market countries,” he told Food Safety News. GIC Group and its Beijing partner, Bric Global Agricultural Consultants Ltd., founded the non-profit Global Food Safety Forum in 2010, which now has staff both here and in China with a mission to advance food safety in Asian markets. Technology’s applications to food safety hold the promise of developing standards that can lead to more reliable food safety, Gilmore said. “It’s a huge political, economic and technological issue, but given the complexity of the Chinese economy, it’s technology that’s critical,” he said, adding that mass spectrometers for pathogen detection and similar investments will enable China to leverage its regulatory agency resources to reach out to all the country’s provinces. Other food safety considerations are tied to import/export markets and involve transparency, regulations and potential inspection obstacles. The volume of Chinese food exports is high, but Gilmore said the ratio is higher for rejection of those exports than for any other supplier. “How do they avoid those cargo rejections? We are available to them, and we have workshops on it,” he said. The Chinese are aware of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), particularly the foreign food safety verification aspect, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of implementing,
Gilmore noted that the Chinese government recently adopted some stringent amendments to the country’s food safety law in response to several high-profile scandals involving food products. The regulatory challenges there are greater because of the size of the population and the vast food production and distribution networks.
Then there’s China’s structure consisting of a central government and semi-autonomous provincial governments. While the U.S. has numerous agencies overseeing food safety, the Chinese now have the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), which was established in 2013 and replaced the former State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA).
Gilmore said that in the time he’s been involved with food safety issues, the Chinese government has made “a sea change” in its food safety regulatory architecture. They passed the food safety law amendments, toughened up enforcement, and found new modes of coordination with the provincial level, for example.
“They’re got a new pilot for food safety liability insurance that they’ll be implementing that we’re very pleased about, so there are some really important initiatives with these new amendments. They recognize that they have a long way to go, but they’ve made a lot of progress,” he said.
The forum will not shy away from issues such as food fraud or economically motivated adulteration of imported or domestic food products, Gilmore said, adding that such matters are important considerations for any food company operating in China.
The huge cultural differences between the U.S. and China make putting together a food safety forum an interesting experience, he acknowledged. One way the Chinese food culture varies from the American is that they cook all their vegetables, so the source of E. coli there is not likely to be fresh produce as it has sometimes been here, Gilmore said.
“Pathogen control in these open air markets is serious stuff. Avian flu and these things are very serious stuff. But human consumable products such as fresh fruits and vegetables or undercooked meat and poultry, you don’t get that as much,” Gilmore said.
The Global Food Safety Forum agenda and confirmed participants are available here.