Pundit’s Mailbag —
Buying Safe Food In A Changing World
Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, December 6, 2006
Today we have an important letter. It is important both because it comes from someone with experience outside of the produce trade and because it draws on the increasing recognition that food safety efforts can’t be limited to spinach but, inevitably, must address issues throughout the produce trade:
We greatly appreciate Tim’s recognition of the Pundit for“… thought-provoking commentary and the robust dialog your forum facilitates for the produce industry.” That means a great deal as does Tim’s thoughtful commentary.
His letter raises many interesting issues. He warns those buyers who are urging government regulation, as we dealt with here, to not see it as a panacea. He is pointing out the same with grower-led mandatory regulatory schemes, such as we dealt with here. In other words, a government mandate may help, but it won’t give buyers what they are looking for: The ability to buy from anyone, anywhere and still feel confident in the product they are selling.
The problem with the buyer-led food safety initiative is that in its collective nature, it can’t be like Darden’s highly rated program. The very nature of Darden’s buying program is that Darden doesn’t just buy randomly from everyone; it selects who it will work with and builds an aligned supply chain. Mark Munger of Andrew-Williamson wrote an excellent letter on this subject, and we heard from another shipper who pointed out that it is only this kind of commitment from buyers that allows for advances in areas such as flavor and food safety.
Tim poses the $64,000 question: If the buyer-led initiative stimulates processes above the minimum standard, such as Darden’s, and alters buyers’ purchasing criteria to value attributes from their suppliers beyond price, it will have great meaning to the produce industry.
Indeed it would. But, of course, a buying organization doesn’t need to have a club to do that. A buyer just has to do it.
One of our most e-mailed pieces, Tale of Two Buyers, pointed out that cultural and compensation issues were holding back buying organizations from embracing food safety.
To some extent, the buyer-led food safety initiative, at least in its first phase, is a plea to the associations to raise the minimum standard so that the buyers can continue doing what they always did.
Tim O’Conner’s letter is a salient reminder that the world has changed and buying practices have to change too.
Just as the British regulatory scheme didn’t protect its people from BSE and the USDA scheme didn’t protect against Jack in the Box, no scheme, mandatory or voluntary, guarantees food safety.
That means no scheme can excuse buyers from their responsibility to act on behalf of their customers. Which means that buyers have to convincingly communicate a willingness to commit to food safety so that vendor organizations will know they can recoup their money if they make big investments in this area.