Food Safety in a Global World

November 16, 2011
Peaches at Packing Plant

I just returned from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Hawaii, where I participated in the announcement of a public-private partnership to create the world's first Global Food Safety Fund. To be managed by the World Bank, this innovative partnership will engage a wide-range of stakeholders in training programs designed to enhance food safety and to facilitate trade. Programs like this help protect the health and safety of all of our citizens, because we're all connected in the current era of global supply chains, international trade, and the foreign sourcing and manufacture of regulated products. Consider just a few numbers: 10 to 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including about 50 percent of our fresh fruits, 20 percent of our vegetables, and 80 percent of our seafood. Last year, the United States imported $81.9 billion of food, of which $7.2 billion came from East Asia.

Throughout the U.S. government, we recognize how globalization has fundamentally altered the landscape for food supply chains for the United States, and for the world. The sheer volume of imports; variety and complexity of products; supply chains which are intricate, lengthy, and often opaque; and growing concerns over climate change-induced impact on supply chains, food contamination, and foodborne diseases all create challenges to ensure that food products are safe and of high quality. That's why, over the past two years, the Department of State has funded a number of programs abroad to identify needed food safety reforms and improvements. And, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now operates a total of 13 foreign posts. Under the recently enacted Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA also has a new mandate to require comprehensive, prevention-based controls across the food supply and new tools to hold players in the supply chain accountable.

The United States is committed to maintaining global food markets that are open and that protect consumer health and safety through science-based policies. Government policies that hinder trade will not fix food safety and security. Quite the contrary. Open food markets can augment domestic food supplies, reduce supply variability, and make more efficient use of global resources. Trade is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

But with an increasingly global food supply chain, we must all work harder -- governments, industry, and all stakeholders -- to ensure that our food is safe to eat. Industry has a vital role to play in ensuring food safety. Beyond being the wrong thing to do, selling bad food products is simply bad business. For example, last year in the United States, Salmonella-contaminated eggs from two producers cost the egg industry over $100 million in September 2010 alone. Incidents of food-borne illness not only hurt the bottom-line of the company or companies that manufactured the contaminated food, they also threaten consumer confidence for the entire product category, industry, or even country.

I commend Mars Incorporated, Waters Corporation, and USAID for their leadership in providing seed money to create a Global Food Safety Fund. More resources and more partners will be needed to truly make a difference on a global scale. I will soon convene a meeting of U.S. companies and other interested parties with the aim of expanding the size of the Fund and the number of participants. I'd like to see the Fund grow substantially so that training programs developed and tested in APEC member countries can be scaled-up and deployed throughout the developing world -- Africa, the Middle East, and South America. I hope that other governments and industry partners will join us in building this new collaborative, partnership model for ensuring public health and safety, while facilitating trade. If we stay committed and work together, we can achieve the level of food safety and security that all of our citizens deserve.

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