Open sharing is critical to enable safe food for all

Jul 12, 2018
By Abigail Stevenson, Director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center
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Reflecting on my first few months in China as Director of the Mars Global Food Safety Center (GFSC) in Huairou, Beijing, the pace of change is something that strikes me the most.  Although it’s visible in daily life through building development and creation of services like high speed train links, changes in the virtual world are perhaps even more impressive.  China is now the world’s largest e-commerce market for example, accounting for almost half of worldwide retail e-commerce sales.

All this makes it an exciting place to live and do business. I can attest to this, having lived in its capital city, Beijing, for the best part of a year now. You can really feel the speed at which things are moving.  But along with this pace come new challenges.  Food safety is one such challenge that everyone faces, not just China.

The reality is that food safety risks are increasing around the globe. These challenges come from a wide range of areas, including changes in agricultural practices, food production, and the environment. Pathogens, such as Salmonella, Listeria and E.coli, and mycotoxins, particularly aflatoxins, continue to present a significant challenge to human and pet health. The globalization of trade means that a food safety issue in one part of the world can quickly impact the global food supply chain. At the same time, new opportunities such as e-commerce bring with them challenges around assurance of authenticity for consumers.

There is also the issue of reduced consumer trust across the globe – particularly in food companies, owing to a perceived lack of transparency in how food is produced and where it comes from. This has led to calls for industry and regulatory reform.

China is no different and has experienced a number of food safety issues in its recent past. Determined to find a solution, the Chinese government are working very hard to improve food safety standards. In fact, it was ‘pull’ from Chinese regulators and our Mars China management teams that led to us to base the Mars GFSC in China. 

As part of our work in China, we were recently invited to contribute an industry perspective to a new book, “Building Food Safety Governance in China”, coordinated by Jérôme Lepeintre, Minister Counsellor for Agriculture, Health and Food Safety at the European Union Delegation to the People’s Republic of China.

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To me this book is a visible demonstration of the positive steps already being taken towards the creation of a global governance approach, and the vital role that China is playing here. China is already a member of the Codex Alimentarius – a 189 strong body focusing on international food safety – and the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). Both are dedicated to supporting and promoting global cooperation for food safety capacity building. That said, there is always room to go further through shared research projects of common interest and collaboration with data sharing in real time. 

This is where the work we’re doing at the GFSC plays a key role; through openly sharing results of original research, and by bringing together experts to discuss how we enable safe food for all. As well as our partnerships in China, the GFSC hosts a range of training sessions, conferences and seminars with academics, manufacturers, regulators, policymakers and non-government organizations from all over the world. I for one am very excited to be part of this exciting work and am incredibly proud of the purpose driven approach Mars take as a company. 

Please download a copy of “Building Food Safety Governance in China” by visiting https://marsgfsc.com/en/Newsletterdetails?item=d88fe658-6142-632c-ac68-ff0000556d69 if you are interested.