To provide insights on 2016, our new Advisory Board members were asked what they see as the challenge(s) the food industry will face in 2016, what the FSMA rules mean to the industry and what is most important in working toward compliance. Their response:

WILL DANIELS. There was a huge push by FDA to publish the final rules in 2015 and this was, by far, the most important event in the food industry. It was the most significant legislation of food in 70 years. We in industry, as well as government, had a huge responsibility to ensure that the changes meant a healthier population. While the results are yet to come, I believe the resulting rules were close to the mark. FDA’s effort to be as transparent and inclusive as possible throughout the process is to be commended. Everyone may not have gotten what they asked for, but all were heard and provided with many forums to comment.

 

Implementation of FSMA will be a huge challenge in 2016. I believe FDA fully understands the weight of its responsibility to educate and support the implementation. I worry that FDA will not have sufficient funding to properly enforce the new regulations. Congress did provide FDA with an  additional $100 million for the implementation and enforcement; I just hope it’s enough. It would be horrible to see the five-year effort to reform food laws in the U.S. go to waste if implementation fails to deliver a safer food supply. Without strong education and enforcement, companies may elect to ignore the new regulations if too confusing or the cost to implement the changes are too burdensome. It’s a shared  responsibility of industry and  government to get this right.

LORI RANDALL. Two of the greatest challenges our industry faces in 2016 are first, the rapidly evolving food safety and regulatory expectations around the world, and second, assuring we stay in front of the changing food and nutrition environment, driven by consumer choice and access to information. In recent years, we have seen the food safety environment evolving so that there are more regulations monitoring each step in the production process. Increased regulation holds manufacturers accountable for the food they produce, so that customers feel confident in their food choices at the grocery store. This has been a very positive shift for our consumers, especially in emerging markets which previously had fewer food safety regulations than developed markets. While Abbott brings the same high safety standards to these markets that we have in the U.S., there is still more to be done. When the result of continuous improvement and teamwork can mean better quality and safer products, we need to act as quickly as possible because it doesn’t just benefit the industry, it benefits the lives of our customers.

As our consumers continue to rely on us to provide high quality, safe products, they are also becoming much more educated about the products they consume. This “scientific sophistication” drives us to continue to secure our sources of high-quality ingredients and to source new and unique ingredients that exceed consumer needs and anticipate retail trends. It also underscores the important role Abbott plays as a reliable source of health and nutrition information for our consumers.

The finalization of the FSMA rules represents a shift in the food safety industry. These regulations encourage manufacturers to prevent contamination rather than simply respond to it. For Abbott, this more proactive approach to food safety and prevention of contamination was already standard procedure, so we had a head start in complying with the new rules, but for some companies this is a dramatic change. One of the most important things that processors need to be doing to work toward compliance is improving communication. Clear plans need to be developed to ensure everyone involved is on the same page about what compliance means and understands its importance. Without that understanding, employees will not be motivated to work toward it and achieve it.