Industry must unite to boost public confidence in food safety

Posted by Isobel Drake on 5th February 2010

All stakeholders have a “duty to work together” to deliver safe food, delegates at the Global Food Safety Conference were told overnight, with the industry needing to unite in order to shore up consumer confidence in the food supply chain.

In welcoming a record-breaking 675 delegates from 39 countries to the conference, Managing Director of The Consumer Goods Forum*, Jean-Marc Saubade, said consumer confidence had been shaken the world over, following a series of high-profile food safety incidents.

Food Safety - Protected Strawberries

“We all have a duty to work together on a non-competitive basis to deliver this. It is imperative to join up the dots: between farm and fork; between science, industry and regulators; between standards, auditors and suppliers …The industry will speak as one voice,” the head of the leading global manufacturer and retail network said.

In a call to action, JP Suarez, Chairman of the Global Food Safety Initiative (an initiative of the Consumer Goods Forum) and Senior Vice President and General Counsel, International Division at Wal-Mart, said GFSI was only as good as its participants. The initiative should not be an expensive luxury that only the biggest companies can afford.

“We need to reach the small suppliers and figure out how to make GFSI relevant,” he insisted.

Don’t blame consumers
It is inappropriate to shift responsibility for food safety onto consumers, academics told the conference.

While acknowledging that consumer education about cooking and food storage should improve, Marion Nestle – Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University and author of Safe Food – The Politics of Food Safety, said that to focus on consumers as the weak link in the supply chain was to ignore the fact that most of the recent outbreaks of food borne illness came from pre-cooked, fresh or ready-to-eat products.

“It’s not the consumer’s fault,” Nestle told the conference. “They need safe food to begin with.”

Research from Nielsen showed that consumers, too, place the primary responsibility for safe food at the door of manufacturers and producers. In an online poll of consumer perception of food safety in 54 countries, 68% of consumers said manufacturers had the main responsibility. Some 23% believed the onus was on the government to regulate, inspect and enforce policy, while only 8% blamed retailers. There was little correlation in the survey between geographic region or market maturity and the answers given, except when it came to consumers’ willingness to pay a premium for safe food.

Those most willing to pay were clustered in developing markets, while consumers in developed markets were the least willing to pay extra for safe food.

* “The Consumer Goods Forum is an independent, global consumer goods network founded to enable its members improve the way they meet the needs of the world’s ever more knowledgeable and demanding consumers. It brings together the CEOs and senior management of over 650 retailers, manufacturers, service providers and other stakeholders across 70 countries. Forum member companies have combined sales of EUR 2.1 trillion.”