Mike Robach, vice president of Corporate Food Safety and Regulatory Affairs for Cargill Inc., encouraged food processors to \push for an effective, modern, global food-safety system that would harmonize efforts from farm to fork and not simply make minor fixes to the current state of affairs.

Robach, speaking in today’s keynote session to attendees of the 2010 Food Safety Summit in Washington, D.C., explained that it is time to modernize food safety, both the systems and the standards, and called for involvement of all the stakeholders in the reform process — industry, consumers, government and academia.

“Without a clear vision forward, it’s impossible to build an effective, modern, global food-safety system,” he said.

Robach believes the federal government and Congress are committed to fixing the food-safety system, but he is concerned that all the current legislation does is patch an antiquated system that is further constrained by the structure of the USDA/FDA framework in place. He says that if we are to reform food safety, then we should analyze all aspects of food safety, to make sure that standards and regulations that have been in place for decades are still valid and meet the needs of the system.

Essential to the process is an improved partnership between the public and private sectors. Robach says that each of us plays a role in driving these partnerships forward.

“Neither sector can drive harmonization of the food-safety system alone,” he said. “Nor can the government, even though sometimes it appears to think it can.”

The Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) has begun to build a bridge toward this path forward to harmonization, and Robach believes partnerships such as these will be necessary for reform to be far-reaching and successful.

Some of the key concepts Robach believes must be part of the reform include:

  • the need for international recognition of the new standards, which must be based on science and risk
  • results must allow flexibility for companies to achieve health objectives, rather than being prescriptive (Robach wants new standards to be objective-based, which would promote innovation by the industry, rather than a “how to” type of standard)
  • use CODEX, OIE and IPPC as a basis for standardization
  • international accreditation for audit schemes is necessary
  • surveillance and rapid response must be improved via better relationships and collaboration by the industry with public-health agencies
  • oversight must be focused on farm to fork, not simply the processing level
  • reform must involve ALL stakeholders

Robach believes that without harmonization, any reform will not go the distance and stand the test of time.

“If people have different measurements of food safety, it’s too confusing for consumers,” he added. “But we cannot let food safety interfere with global trade.”

A global food-safety system would ensure a supply of safe food around the world at all times.