William H. Sperber

The global food supply chain is a vast network through which millions of tons of food commodities, ingredients, and finished products move each year among most countries of the world. Today it is common for a packaged consumer food product manufactured in one country to contain ingredients from dozens of countries. The commerce in food materials fosters economic growth in developing countries and provides a dependable long-term global supply of foodstuffs, including perishable foods that are grown regionally and seasonally.

Fostered by the evolution of industry food safety and quality programs over the past 50 years, developed countries have settled into similar patterns of responsibility to ensure food protection (i.e., food safety and food defense). Fundamentally, food producers, processors, and retailers are held responsible for food protection, while food regulators are accountable for advancing regulations and for developing guidance documents and procedures to verify compliance with food protection requirements.

Raw materials and processed food ingredients are a key part of the global food trade. Food materials sourced in developing countries may be produced under conditions less sanitary than those in developed countries—a concern that often leads to political and consumer demands for increased inspections and product testing at ports of entry. But product inspection and testing are ineffective tools to ensure food protection. Instead, potential and significant food safety hazards must be identified and systematically controlled at the points of origination, processing, and packaging of each food commodity, raw material, ingredient, and finished product. However, the ability to ensure compliance with food protection requirements at the myriad points of origination and processing in the global food supply chain is beyond the legal and physical abilities of individual national regulatory and health agencies.

Many food companies have worldwide operations that enable them to fulfill their individual responsibilities for food protection. And they are ready to participate in a more effective global food protection program. There is, however, no comparable array of individual regulatory and health or intergovernmental agencies with the global connections and authority to support necessary improvements in global food protection. Much of the global influence for food protection resides in United Nations (UN) organizations. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is principally involved in food security (availability) and some elements of food safety, while the World Health Organization (WHO) is mainly involved in public health. Both are supported in their missions by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), which develops food standards, guidelines, and codes of practice to assist in protecting public health and ensuring fair trade.

No single organization, however, has the necessary accountability, scope, or focus to enhance and ensure global food protection. Furthermore, current trends in population growth, climate change, and resource availability will make it even more difficult to protect our food supply in the future. The necessary leadership to make progress, in spite of these trends, can be provided by a new global food industry-intergovernmental collaboration.

Therefore, I propose that a new intergovernmental organization be created to complement and expand industry food protection efforts. It could be a relatively small and nimble organization placed within the UN and parallel to WHO and FAO, supported by CAC, with its sole emphasis on food protection. Named the “World Organization for Food Protection (WOFP),” its program would include the many elements necessary to ensure food protection, including, but not limited to:
• Promote global understanding, implementation, and verification of enhanced food protection measures;

• Establish incentives for intergovernmental collaboration;

• Provide farm-to-table coverage with a focus on points of origination;

• Require the use of HACCP and prerequisite programs;

• Advance uniform audit procedures with industry collaboration;

• Establish traceability systems for food ingredients and products.

I believe that WOFP can be considerably more proactive and cost-efficient than the current fragmented system, ultimately enabling the effective use of all applicable resources to enhance food protection for all consumers. There are sufficient numbers of experienced and capable professionals throughout the global food industry and academic, governmental, and intergovernmental organizations to transform this idea into a practical reality.

by William H. Sperber, Ph.D., a Professional Member of IFT, is Global Ambassador for Food Protection in Cargill’s Corporate Food Safety and Regulatory Affairs dept., Minnetonka, MN 55345 ([email protected]).