Transparency, quality and anti-fraud action: the latest food safety requirements
For many years, food safety was confined to the local issues of hygiene, quality and nutrition. Now a series of scandals - horse meat lasagna in France, baby milk with melamine in China and fake olive oils in the United States - has pushed back the boundaries. The public authorities were among the first to transform the system, backed by a new generation of consumers in search of healthy and even organic food production methods that value the environment, agricultural work and animal welfare. Thanks to innovative approaches, Bureau Veritas was able to anticipate this deep-rooted trend.
All too often, high-profile bacteria, such as salmonella, listeria and Escherichia coli appear on the consumer’s plate without warning. They demonstrate how you can never take your eye off the ball when it comes to food safety and why, in the Industry 4.0 era, we need to do everything possible to control cleaning processes and best practices in order to guarantee hygiene standards. The aim is to prevent the contamination of food products and preparations by unwanted bacteria, but also by viruses, primarily hepatitis A, transmitted by irrigation water, and noroviruses contained in red fruits and seafood; unlike microbes, now generally contained at each stage - production, distribution, catering, etc. - the active control of food viruses is still in its infancy.
In recent years, sophisticated measurement methods have raised detection thresholds for food contaminants such as pesticides, heavy metals and antibiotic residues. This is good news for consumers made wary by a series of food fraud scandals. The increasing complexity of supply chains, with an average of seven to eight actors per processed product, and the internationalization of trading channels, compounded the impact of these scandals. "Screening, which consists in assessing a product's composition very broadly, is based on technologies that are still very expensive and poorly developed," says Nicolas Karam, Vice President, Food Service Line at Bureau Veritas. "Hence the current challenge for manufacturers to find ways to protect themselves from possible food fraud, at a time when the fight against these crimes is intrinsically linked to the regulatory environment." So how do you trust a product when you don’t have access to each stage of the audit process?
As part of its efforts to restore confidence in food safety, Bureau Veritas has an international network of employees. As the group operates in multiple countries, it can deploy inspectors in Thailand, for example, to monitor the quality of locally produced rice, its loading/unloading and its arrival at a plant prior to processing. Based on a series of inspections and checks, the company has built a trusted partnership across the value chain. The challenge for manufacturers and distributors is to use these tougher controls to protect consumer health and their brand’s reputation with consumers, as a powerful reminder of their increasing transparency or the strength of their commitment to sustainable development.
Bureau Veritas has developed innovative food traceability tools such as its blockchain-based Origin solution to use alongside existing certification and label schemes. Applicable to all agricultural and food products, the Origin solution links a series of inspections across the value chain. "Bureau Veritas acts as a trusted third party, in a Business to Business to Society (BtoBtoS) relationship, able to set governance rules and act as an arbitrator," says Nicolas Karam. "Our added value is to check the quality of the data collected and perform physical checks to ensure the veracity of the declarations."
Traceability, respect for animal welfare and labels: for brands, the rules of the game have changed
Brand protection in the agri-food industry has traditionally relied on safe products that guarantee consumer safety (no disease) and peace of mind for manufacturers (no litigation). Having enjoyed a high level of nutritional, taste and organoleptic quality for several decades, consumers have become more demanding. Brands now need to take into account environmental and societal issues - short food supply chains, labels, organic products etc. - while in particular respecting animal welfare. "This complex issue is now confined to international recommendations, and there are no precise rules or compliance criteria," says Nicolas Karam. "Hence the emergence of private benchmarks, initiated by NGOs - some supported by Bureau Veritas - before standards come on stream." Consumer demand for transparency has heightened the importance of CSR in corporate governance. Companies are expected to use an increasing number of environmental impact and animal welfare indicators. There is now a greater need for quantified commitments, for which Bureau Veritas is a preferred partner, capable of building trust through independent inspections.
The challenge ahead for the agri-food industry: squaring the responsible consumers circle
The number one challenge facing the agri-food industry today is to develop a new model for the sustainable exploitation of the planet's resources, while meeting the sometimes contradictory demands of consumers for affordable prices, optimal availability, respect for nature, farm incomes, and animals, and more ‘local consumption’. "Our businesses are moving towards this model in order to build trust around short supply chains. One example of how Bureau Veritas does this is by supporting French local authorities supply school canteens with local products," explains Nicolas Karam.
Demanding ethical consumers, responsible companies, and the digitalization of inspections at each stage of the value chain - welcome to food safety’s new virtuous cycle of trust!