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 ANAHEIM, Calif., USA, 28th February 2014 – The last day of the Consumer Goods Forum’s (CGF) Global Food Safety Conference was kicked off by yet another set of inspiring breakfast sessions, kindly hosted by the conference sponsors Ecolab, SGS and NSF International. The following plenary and breakout sessions involved thought provoking discussions around one central theme ‘The Way Forward: High Tech Or High Touch?’. The importance of investing both in people and technology in order to advance food safety came into sharp focus during the interactive debate at the closing plenary session followed by lessons on courageous leadership. The conference was closed by an official GFSI Chairmanship handover to Cenk Gürol, Aeon Group SCM Officer and President, Aeon Global SCM Co., Ltd., Japan. 

 
Building Trust Through Transparency 
Dawn Welham, Technical Director, Asda Stores Ltd, UK 
Terry Donohoe, Head of Policy Support, Food Standards Agency, UK 
Tim Ahn, Global Quality and Food Safety Director, Mars Chocolate, USA 
Laurie Demeritt, CEO, The Hartman Group, USA 
 
Joining the dots. The mantra is that food safety is non-competitive, yet the horsemeat adulteration scandal in the UK demonstrated that intelligence was not shared until ‘the horse had bolted’. Dawn Welham used this example to illustrate the need for openness and transparency within the supply chain and between the industry and regulators. Yet this is only one example of where collaboration could have reduced the impact of food safety events. Terry Donohoe agreed and explained how information sharing could even assist in predicting and possibly preventing food safety outbreaks using horizon scanning and predictive modelling. 
 
Tim Ahn expanded on this by considering the benefits of improved transparency with suppliers. Tim argued the need to leverage relationships and create partnerships across each step in the supply chain – what is inherent material risk, and how can the supplier eliminate or control the risk? 
 
From a different perspective, we heard from Laurie Demeritt about changing consumer perspectives on food safety and quality, and the need for the industry to listen and adjust. The modern consumer is more astute and well-informed, and wants products that are fresh, real, and less processed. 
  
Science in Dispute: Conflicts and Resolutions 
Robert L. Buchanan, Director and Professor, Center for Food Safety and Security Systems, University of Maryland, USA 
David Acheson, President and CEO, The Acheson Group, USA 
Philip Miller, Vice President, Global Regulatory and Government Affairs, Monsanto Company, USA 
Simone Hertzberger, Senior Director Product Integrity Topics, Royal Ahold, The Netherlands 
Richard Gast, Microbiologist and Research Leader, Egg Safety and Quality Research Unit, USDA, USA 
 
During this debate session entitled “Science in Dispute”, Bob Buchanan made the case for zero tolerance in public health, saying that food safety systems work best when there’s a rigorous and clearly defined target. What is needed are informed decisions based on the specific pathogen and we must explore alternative strategies for preventing rare diseases among highly susceptible individuals. 
 
Arguing against the case was David Acheson who said that as a society we are heading for zero tolerance on certain foods for which there is no scientific case. Where there’s no science, the cost is too high so at least for now we end up with a balance. We can significantly reduce bacterial load using irradiation or high pressure and both can be very effective. Regarding differences between regulators, he said the solution is to get the private sector to drive change because the regulators will never achieve harmonisation. 
 
Putting the case for the safety of GMOs was Philip Miller of Monsanto. He said that Monsanto had viewed themselves as a seed and agriculture company , not as part of the food chain. For GMO safety the science is in agreement. It is a technology that is the most studied, reviewed and regulated. It’s used in many countries and is consumed daily by billions of people. So far he said that there has been zero food safety incidents and that there’s no more risk than for conventional breeding. He said that scientists have allowed NGOs to define the space. Public outreach needs to be improved. 
 
Arguing against was Simone Hertzberg of Royal Ahold who concentrated on the case for consumers. In 2013 a French professor published a paper about the dangers of GMO. The scientific world rejected his story but the papers proclaimed him as a success and published his pictures of rats with tumors… this picture went everywhere. EFSA requested a retraction which was refused, though the publisher of the journal did retract the article. She said that as Bob Gravani pointed out in 2008 at the Global Food Safety Conference, experts focus on hazards while consumers focus on fears. She said that’s a fact of life and of our business. 
 
A final presentation by Richard Gast of the USDA was about controlling egg contamination by understanding salmonella infections. Gast went through some of the challenges of reducing an organism that is so persistent. He also talked about the differing approaches in dealing with those challenges between the USA and the EU. In the US eggs are washed but in EU they are not because of the concern that the washing will actually pull the pathogens through into the egg. In the EU regulations requires vaccinations of all laying flocks while in the US it’s not a requirement though it does usually happen.  
 
Social Media 
Charlie Arnot, CEO, The Center for Food Integrity, USA 
Shelley Feist, Executive Director, Partnership for Food Safety Education (PFSE), USA 
Dana L. Pitts, Leads Scientific Communications, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA 
 
Arnot began by saying that transparency is no longer optional in an era where everyone has a cellphone and can instantly post and widely diffuse images. Issues which are of high impact and of high concern have a heightened potential for social outrage, and a study showed that these key issues are food affordability, healthy food affordability and food safety. It is important to connect with target groups based on shared values and highlight these values in a crisis situation. Arnot also highlighted that effective communication needs to be done through trust building transparency, which is defined by motivation, disclosure, stakeholder participation, relevance, clarity, credibility and accuracy. When it comes to restoring a company’s credibility, nothing is more important than a company’s willingness to use social media to accept accountability for its mistakes. 
 
Shelley Feist represented a public interest non-profit organization that strives to educate the public on food safety matters. She shared their experience and best practice on what it takes to engage the public with a social media campaign. Their guiding principles are trusted science-based behavioral health messaging and building a network of interactive members. 80% of foodborne diseases are sporadic and this is where educating consumers about reducing the risk of food poisoning at home can have the biggest impact. It is of crucial importance to ensure that households are consistently practicing safe food handling. Social media is distinctive because of its interactivity element and the ultimate goal is to create a dialogue between organizations, communities, and individuals. Ideally interaction needs to produce more content and often it happens around “social objects” or shared online resources around which interactions develop and coalesce. Using social media implies being social and interactive by providing answers and feedback real-time. Content is Key. Your “social objects” need to be compelling to your audience and you need to know your audience. Building engagement takes time, effort and thought. 
 
Dana Pitts introduced her session by saying that we need to use social media data to inform our strategies. Social media works best when integrated into a health communications strategy to support overarching communications goals and objectives. Social media can support a company’s mission, allow it to communicate rapidly during outbreaks, increase engagement, share relevant content in new spaces, reach new audiences, listen and respond in real-time and complement traditional communications. Ultimately, social media can even help to prevent foodborne outbreaks as long as we take time to analyse the data that we gather to isolate key issues. 
  
Food Safety Debate – High Tech or High Touch? 
Randy Huffman, Chief Food Safety Officer and Senior Vice President Six Sigma & Quality, Maple Leaf Foods, Canada 
Robert Gravani, Professor of Food Science, Department of Food Science, Cornell University, USA 
Joe Smithwick, Manager, Retail Food Safety, Target, USA 
John Carter, Vice President Metro Group: Global Director Quality Assurance, Metro Cash & Carry, Germany 
Mike Robach, Vice President, Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory Affairs, Cargill, USA 
Dane Bernard,Vice President, Quality Assurance and Food Safety, Keystone Foods in Greater Philadelphia Area, USA 
Dana L. Pitts, Leads Scientific Communications, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA 
 
The motion was to invest in technology rather than people to make the step change in food safety. The case for people was made. They’re the best asset for all businesses. Just like with GFSI, it’s only getting together face to face that we are able to share the values and respect that allow us to inspire our people. The GFSI Guidance document isn’t about technology. It was made by people for people and without it how would we all have come together? That is driving the step change in food safety. 
 
The case for technology was made. It allows people to make timely, data driven decisions. It saves lives and brings people together in a virtual environment so that sharing and learning can occur. It’s not about people vs machines. For those of us who started in the industry without a computer it’s not about that. It’s about an investment in technology to make the step change. 
 
The panelists found common ground and agreed that really it’s about a balance, and not one or the other. A delegate summed it all up from the conference floor: Better people plus better technology = safer food. 
 
The Future of Food – The Reciprocity Advantage 
Bob Johansen, Distinguished Fellow, Institute For The Future (IFTF), USA 
 
Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future talked about a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. He said that GFSI is creating a shared asset as we enter a turbulent decade which is both frightening and hopeful. Johansen described the reciprocity advantage, which he forecast will be the biggest innovation opportunity in history and which is at the core of what GFSI is doing. The idea is to give it away in the faith that you will get back more. For food safety, GFSI is well positioned to be very successful. He closed his talk with two pieces of advice. Firstly, do more experimenting. 
 
Find out how to learn early, often and cheaply. Secondly, create a compelling clarity statement because the current profile is too low. Offer a prize and crowd source a new name. Acronyms, such as ‘GFSI,’ aren’t compelling or motivational.  
 
Courageous Leadership 
Lee Cockerell, Former Executive Vice President, Walt Disney World Resort, USA 
 
Lee closed the conference and started by saying that the truth was that during his long career at Disney, he didn’t even know what was going on half the time. What made him successful was that he had surrounded himself with the right people. He told delegates about his priorities, starting with recruitment, stressing the need to take your time and get it right. He then highlighted training and the importance of making sure that managers understand its importance and are determined to carry out enforcement of the company policies. There must be consequences for staff that don’t deliver and the leaders must be brave. He went on to stress the importance of leaders recognizing that they are role models. Be careful what you do every day because everyone’s watching you. He said that leadership is about culture. It’s not a part of the game, it is the game! He concluded with advice about being really organized. Make sure that every day you fix whatever you didn’t get done the day before. And do it better than anyone else.