A Plenary Session at the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) 2022 conference in Barcelona, Spain examined GFSI's actionable steps to achieve its strategic priorities. Among these, GFSI is reshaping its Global Markets Program in preparation for the launch of a new capability-building framework, for which GFSI will debut a supporting set of pilot projects. GFSI has also introduced a new model for auditor training and professional development with input from the auditing community, Professional Recognition Bodies (PRBs), and Certification Program Owners (CPOs).

The panel, moderated by Journalist Isabelle Kumar, featured Anne Gerardi, GFSI Senior Project Manager for The Consumer Goods Forum; Virginia Siebenrok, Chief of Food Safety and Quality for the United Nations World Food Program (UN WFP); Sang-woo Baek, Inspector for the International Certification Team of the Technical Innovation Department for the Korea Agency of HACCP Accreditation and Services (KAHAS); Diego Varela, Director of the Chile Food Safety Agency (ACHIPIA); and Marie-Claude Quentin, GFSI Senior Technical Manager at The Consumer Goods Forum.

A New Capability-Building Framework

In discussing GFSI's process for reshaping its Global Markets Program, Anne Gerardi explained that GFSI consulted with its stakeholders over the course of a year, including holding a key stakeholder survey. "The survey results said that we need to unlock the capability-building potential for food business operators," Gerardi said. It also showed the need for feedback on training. To this end, GFSI is drafting a new capability-building framework that will be launched in the future. GFSI has outlined a roadmap for the next year with its steering committee, according to Gerardi.

Virginia Siebenrok, speaking from the perspective of the UN's WFP, noted that local, small-scale, and mid-sized manufacturers need many capabilities and forms of assistance, from interpretation of standards to assessing their current implemented systems to technical support; the latter is often lacking in manufacturers' current environments. Siebenrok also emphasized that these smaller- and mid-sized manufacturers need more access to knowledge and training. The WFP sees great opportunity to cooperate with GFSI on such initiatives.

International Needs and Perspectives 

In discussing KAHAS' reason for reaching out to GFSI, Sang-woo Baek stressed Korea's need for internationally recognized food safety certifications, and noted that many international distributors require these certifications to manage food safety. "That's why we want to collaborate with GFSI—to achieve excellent outcomes together and start from the pilot program," Baek said.

Diego Varela, in discussing ACHIPIA's relationship with GFSI, noted that the main goal is to strengthen the presence of GFSI at a national level in Chile. "GFSI is a key partner for us to implement improvements to our national food safety system," Varela said, "but for that to be a fruitful partnership, GFSI needs to understand the national private sector and landscape, so that we can work together and have a positive collaboration with the stakeholders."

Virginia Siebenrok expanded on Varela's idea of fruitful collaboration, saying, "To make this work more efficiently and make it more collaborative, we need to cater to individual operators' needs and give more support for assessments for small- and mid-sized operators." Siebenrok noted that tailored support will help these entities achieve their desired states of compliance. "It's not one-size-fits-all," she explained. "Tailored preparation is needed to help achieve the food safety level for each specific operator."

Anne Gerardi added that stakeholders are expecting a program that is very global and local at the same time, but that transparency is also an essential element of the Global Markets Program.

Sang-woo Baek commented that the Korean government aims to expand its oversight of foods with high risk and also create global partnerships. "We want to have the opportunity to show our food safety system to global retailers," she said. The ultimate goal, Baek explained, is to make Korea's food safety measurement system recognized in a global market. "We hope that the future program of GFSI could be a place where our food safety system will take a step forward and improve our international status," she said.

Diego Varela added that the revised Global Markets Program should have some built-in level of flexibility, with local partners having the ability to amend established programs. He also highlighted the ability to react to national events—which are not always applicable to a global level—as being a desirable feature of the revised Program, as well as the need to address sustainability issues. "We will be especially interested to help those who need it the most—small farmers, small agricultural producers, small fisheries, and others—and we would be very interested in working with GFSI on these topics," Varela said.

Next Steps for the Global Markets Program

Anne Gerardi noted the need to open up food safety through the sustainability goals identified by GFSI. New technologies also will be key to opening up new supply chains in emerging markets. "There is a need for a training and education framework that is verified by international stakeholders as a key underlying principle for success," Gerardi said. "We want to find a role for everyone to play in this new framework for food safety."

The next steps in GFSI's revision of its Global Markets Program, Gerardi explained, are to hold discussions on the creation of the new framework with the GFSI Steering Committee, decide on a framework at the Steering Committee meeting in September of this year, and then launch a six-month pilot project with the industry. GFSI will measure the impacts of this pilot project, and hopes to discuss the outcomes at the next GFSI conference in 2023.

Rethinking Auditor Competence

Marie-Claude Quentin, GFSI Senior Technical Manager at The Consumer Goods Forum, next spoke about what GFSI is doing to attract more people to the auditing profession. With too few auditors in service and some auditors leaving the profession, GFSI recognizes the need to make the profession of auditing more valued and accessible.

At present, Quentin noted, auditors must comply with lengthy and repetitive requirements, and GFSI understands that it is responsible for driving part of that complexity. "Our ambition now is to simplify that process, regardless of the standard you're auditing against, by introducing Professional Recognition Bodies, or PRBs," she said.

PRBs, which help develop professional competence, are already in use in other industries, such as accounting and building inspection, but are not yet established in the food sector. Registration to a PRB helps verify auditing candidate qualifications and ensure candidate competence because the auditors are verified independently, Quentin explained.

GFSI is taking two critical steps in this direction. First, it is implementing a recognition program for PRBs. Second, it is moving the entire Certification Program Owner (CPO) system to registration to the PRBs. This will help ensure that all competence assessments are maintained through the PRBs.

"This is much more aligned to the GFSI principles of harmonizing outcomes," Quentin said. She also noted, "Any competence validation must have an ongoing element of monitoring and support." The introduction of PRBs is designed to help eliminate redundant checks on auditors, establish a competence-based system, attract more auditors to the profession, and ensure better audits.