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Global food safety group meets with Chinese envoys

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 04-Nov-2009

Chinese food safety delegates met with international food safety experts in Minnesota this week to conclude a two-week program discussing individual nations’ role in the development of global standards.

The safety of food imports, particularly from China, has been on the US agenda in many forms recently, including the current discussion in Congress of a bill to overhaul food safety. Last year’s melamine-tainted milk scandal and trade tensions created by a ban on imports of Chinese poultry have also ramped up concern over the issue. However, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has emphasized the agency’s commitment to developing closer ties with international officials in response to public health risks.

The Global Initiative for Food Systems Leadership (GIFSL) organized the exchange with the 22 Chinese delegates – senior food safety officials from government, industry and academic sectors. GIFSL is a public-private-academic partnership which receives funds and input from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Cargill, General Mills, Ecolab, the Dutch Food Safety Authority, and the University of Minnesota, among others.

The group’s meeting in Minnesota has included a tour of a General Mills facility and meetings with local health officials. Later this week, the program will focus on safe practices in the dairy supply chain, and conclude with a roundtable discussion with industry food safety leaders.

Vice president of Ecolab Food Safety Katherine Swanson said: "GIFSL provides a critical leadership network of key stakeholders from government, industry, and academia to act together to identify needs and harmonized approaches for enhanced food safety globally.”

The Minnesota meeting follows two days in Rome discussing international safety standards with the FAO, a visit to a Cargill oilseed crushing facility near Amsterdam, and two days in Washington, DC, meeting with government agencies and industry associations.

GIFSL executive director and professor of veterinary medicine and public health at the University of Minnesota Will Hueston said: "Everyone in the food supply chain has some responsibility for ensuring food safety. It takes a collaborative effort to ensure safety, and that's one of the goals of this project."

US food safety officials have extended their efforts to reach broad agreement on global food safety standards over the past several months, including through Commissioner Hamburg’s meeting with European officials early in her tenure to discuss how standards could become more harmonized to reflect the globalized nature of the industry.