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Pundit’s Mailbag — Welcome To The
World Of Retail-Imposed Standards

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 16, 2007

Following our two Pundits on the controversy between WGA and the Food Safety Leadership Council, which you can read here and here, we heard from several of our friends in the U.K.

Their take was that of empathy for the growers, as they have already been through this, as one long time British retailer expressed:

Great issue!

It’s all Kicking Off in the States then!

Welcome to Due Diligence and retailers raising the standards… about time!

In the United Kingdom, of course, it has been retailers that have led the drive to impose food safety standards on the production end of the business.

When the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative was launched, many thought the same movement was taking hold in the U.S., but the buyers decided to work through existing industry associations and never took the step of imposing standards on the trade.

When we interviewed Jo McDonald, Technical Services Manager at the British Retail Consortium, we asked this question:

Would British Retail Consortium Standards Have Prevented The Spinach Crisis?

Her answer was bold:

“I believe that if all companies had adopted BRC standards, the spinach E. coli outbreak very well could have been avoided.”

— Jo McDonald
Technical Services Manager
British Retail Consortium

We don’t know if it was correct. Comparisons between countries on food safety are notoriously difficult because each country uses a different surveillance system, and nobody has a system like the US PulseNet.

We don’t know if this initiative is the beginning of a buyer-driven food safety system, but we are certain that the Food Safety Leadership Council metrics and this whole initiative are signs that nature abhors a vacuum.

If we as an industry don’t create a national regulatory program to establish a food safety base for all commodities from all sources, others will move into that vacant space and create their own food safety schemes.

In the end, the produce industry may wind up thanking the Food Safety Leadership Council for clarifying the choice before us.

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