Reaching across borders to improve food safety 

How public-private partnerships create connections that boost global food supply safety

June 06, 2018

With food crossing more borders these days, consumers everywhere want to know: How are food and agricultural products getting safer?

One important way that progress is being made is through partnerships between the private and public sectors that enable sharing of best practices. When achieved at a global scale, these partnerships can help establish common food safety standards among nations to ensure food moves safely from where it’s grown to where it’s consumed.

This was one of the goals when Cargill convened a dialogue last year in Latin America between Chinese officials and their counterparts among the Brazilian and Argentine governments.

Having arranged many similar visits in North America and Europe, it was the first time Cargill organized such a meeting in Latin America. It makes sense: Countries like Brazil and Argentina are significant suppliers of agricultural products to China. Helping them exchange and harmonize their food safety knowledge will only strengthen this critical global flow of food.

Tiago Moreno, leader of Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory for Cargill’s agricultural supply chain business in South America, clearly saw an impact.

“Hosting our guests from Asia was a unique opportunity to have Cargill teams from opposite ends of the globe together, strengthening bonds. Having government representatives also was important to enhance connections,” Moreno said. “This is helping all of us resolve emerging issues in a quick and transparent way. Everyone saw first-hand the commitment we all have to food safety and quality.”

Strengthening knowledge and relationships 

Making the trip to the Southern Hemisphere were 14 government officials and experts from China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine Program (AQSIQ), which is charged, among other things, with ensuring food safety. They were joined by additional personnel from other Chinese government agencies, including the Minister of Agriculture.

The Chinese delegation met with the Ministry of Agriculture of Brazil, Argentina’s National Food Safety and Quality Service Administration, the Brazilian Grain Export Association, Brazil’s Supervisor and Control Association, and a third-party inspection company. In addition, the group visited Cargill’s grain terminals, soybean crushing facilities and cooperative farms in the two Latin American countries.

In the end, the parties came away from the meetings not just with heightened knowledge, but also with stronger relationships.

“We knew everyone would learn from each other, and it exceeded our expectations,” said Shi Baoxiang, head of the Chinese delegation. “From our perspective, we now have a deeper understanding about regulations in grain production in Brazil and Argentina. Everyone benefits.”

Latin American participants sensed the value, as well.

“These meetings are essential to us as exporters, because we have easier access to information outside of formal communication channels,” said Sérgio Mendes, director for the National Grain Exporters Association, who participated in the seminar. “Thanks to that, we are able to eliminate misunderstandings and wrong perceptions about the quality of our exports.”

10 years of progress

As a company that transports food all over the world, Cargill works closely with many governments to foster alignment on food safety standards. The idea to convene cross-border learning sessions like the ones that happened in Brazil and Argentina came about ten years ago when Cargill and AQSIQ came together to form the International Food Safety Leadership Program.

The initiative convened government officials, food safety scientists from academic institutions, and management personnel of leading agriculture and food companies within China, and paired them with food safety experts from Cargill and other companies, international food standards organizations, government officials, and academic institutions across Europe and North America.

Each year, these delegations have visited a variety of food production and processing sites in multiple countries to learn from one another and have a dialogue on how to continue making progress on all kinds of issues connected to food safety and the movement of food around the world.

“The way companies like Cargill work together with government organizations and industry associations on food safety is very effective,” said Han Jianping, a representative from AQSIQ. “Bringing people together to share our knowledge and expertise helps everybody improve.”

Joe Scimeca, Cargill assistant vice president of Global Regulatory and Scientific Affairs, has been involved in the exchange program since its inception. He says he has seen marked improvements in food safety that have facilitated better trade relations over his decade of involvement with the program.

“Everyone has come together in a spirit of cooperation to improve and streamline standards,” Scimeca said. “As food safety standards are raised and harmonized, goods can more easily flow between countries. It’s better for farmers, and it’s better for consumers in destination markets like China who today have greater assurance than ever that their food is safe.”