The 2019 edition also marked the first time that the conference has taken place in France since 2006, and Director Véronique Discours-Buhot and Conference Committee Co-Chairs Pierre de Ginestel and Fréderic René wore their pride at this homecoming on their Breton-striped sleeves. They sported quintessentially French stripes, berets and scarves to open the week’s first session, GFSI & You, warmly welcoming delegates to the birthplace of the initiative.
Taking a cue from the subtle Japanese touches at last year’s event in Tokyo, the organisers imbued the programming with a certain French je ne sais quoi that accompanied GFSI’s international relevance throughout the programme. The pre-conference Discovery Tours through the rolling countryside of the French Riviera allowed delegates to explore the rich culinary history of the region, and the Official Reception at the renowned Negresco Hotel offered an iconically Niçois setting to make valuable connections. In addition, the speakers list included many leading names in the French food industry, including Emmanuel Faber, Chairman and CEO of Danone.
A Holistic Approach to Emerging ChallengesFaber’s talk during the opening plenary established a holistic and regionalised approach to the conference’s theme, emerging challenges and the future of food safety, that would reverberate throughout the week. He pointed to a growing desire for ‘small and local’ food over anything ‘big and international’, a desire that has grown exponentially since GFSI’s foundation in 2000. ‘GFSI is big and international,’ he reminded the audience. ‘So if we want to stay relevant, we have to listen to these signals.’ Subsequent speakers considered ways that various corners of the food industry might change to remain relevant, including Dirk Van de Put, CEO of Mondelēz International. ‘We must evolve,’ he said during the second plenary, which took stock of the challenges facing various sectors of the food industry. ‘Consumers will continue to test our expectations.’
The third plenary gave the spotlight to the ‘small and local’ links in the global supply chain. GFSI’s Global Markets Programme offers a pathway to certification for companies of this size, an international selection of which receive recognition every year through the Global Markets Awards. After the world premier of a new episode of GFSI’s web series about one of last year’s winners, four companies implementing the stepwise programme were inducted to the Global Markets Awards family, who Board Chairman Mike Robach called ‘a group of ambassadors for GFSI around the world’.
Delegates regularly cite cutting-edge solutions as one of their favourite topics to discover at the GFSI Conference, and the 2019 edition delivered on this point. The fourth plenary used real-life case studies to illustrate food safety applications of a broad range of technology, from whole genome sequencing to social media listening and Big Data. While sophisticated technologies proved indispensable in these cases, the speakers emphasised that the real solution lies in public-private collaboration. GFSI ‘can convene the conversation, do the collaboration, get everybody broadly involved in this together,’ said Julie Pierce of the UK FSA, who brought a regulator’s perspective to the table.
Technology Meets the Human Factor
Breakout Sessions provided further opportunities to learn about technological innovations and other solutions to emerging challenges. The conference featured nine breakouts, plus an additional CPO-focused session, that delved into the details of subjects as diverse as food fraud, allergen management and new developments in microbiology. Other sessions served as forums for discussing the future of GFSI and third-party certification, a rapidly-accelerating field that is poised to become even more crucial to the future of food safety.
Morning Special Sessions and Tech Talks during afternoon networking breaks focused on specific tools in the food safety arsenal. Blockchain, Big Data, Internet of Things, AI and digitisation remained at the forefront, with topics including ‘Blockchain — The Ingredient Your Food Is Missing’ by IBM and ‘Blockchain Made Easy’ by greenfence. Delegates were also reminded of the importance of the human factor in the supply chain at discussions including Trace One’s Tech Talk on innovation and Ecolab’s Special Session on food safety culture and training.
That human factor took centre stage at the final plenary of the conference, which focused on the importance of food safety culture. After an introduction to the GFSI Technical Working Group’s new reference document for building a cohesive culture from the top down, delegates heard case studies and personal testimonies about the implementation of food culture at Danone, McDonald’s and Nestle. Finally, Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse and Christian Regouby of the Collège Culinaire de France took to the stage to explain how their own perspective on food overlaps with that of GFSI. Cuisine, they said, fosters both 'pleasure and peace' — reminding the delegates of the humanistic importance of their efforts to provide the world with safe food.
At the close of the session, Pierre de Ginestel, Fréderic René and Véronique Discours-Buhot took to the stage in their opening-ceremony attire once more to thank everyone involved for another successful conference, from the delegates and speakers to the sponsors and staff. After introducing the Board members set to represent GFSI's American contingent, Mike Robach invited the audience to next year's conference in Seattle. ‘Thank you,’ he said in closing; ‘Now let's go out and continue to produce safe food.’
The delegates returning home to continue to produce safe food today are doing so with new information, fresh ideas and the connections they need to get them done. We look forward to seeing how the world of food safety will evolve as a result of this conference, and to seeing you in Seattle!