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How Concerned Should Americans Be About Food Safety? »

January 16, 2019

As the government shutdown lingers with no end in sight, the chorus of concern over food safety grows. Since the FDA was forced by the government shutdown to stop routine inspections on December 29, more than 35,000 social posts show the confusion and fear over food safety are widespread.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But how concerned do Americans need to be over what’s in their shopping carts?

Food safety does not stop with FDA and USDA inspections. American consumers should be confident that they are being protected in several key ways:

  • Food safety is the top priority of manufacturers who have countless experts on the job every day to ensure Americans have access to safe products. Every registered manufacturer is required to have one — and most have multiple — food safety plans for the products they produce. The presence of an inspector does not affect the extensive and constant monitoring processes that continue at all times, no matter what. Doing anything less is a threat to consumer health and the viability of their businesses.
  • FDA and USDA inspections are only one part of the food safety system, and most lines of defense are unchanged. The job of food safety is largely in the hands of manufacturers, and it is a job they do very well. The government’s role is oversight and determining violations. It is a necessary role, but even in its absence, all other safety practices continue.
  • In the event of a threat to food safety, FDA and USDA have a process in place and a team that will be activated. When it comes to public health, these agencies will take appropriate measures, even in a shutdown.

Despite myriad protections still in place to protect public health, the shutdown is having some very real and damaging effects and it is imperative that Congress and the White House resolve this issue.

Consumer confidence has become a casualty of the shutdown. The American people deserve to have confidence in their food and every day that goes by without these routine inspections that confidence erodes. The public reaction to the shutdown reinforces the importance of a sound partnership between food manufacturers and government regulators, one that needs to be fully reinstated as soon as possible.

To his credit, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue have actively communicated with the public throughout the shutdown to help quell the alarm over food safety. They have been clear in their assurances that consumer protection remains a top priority and that responding to outbreaks is an excepted activity. Gottlieb also tweeted on Monday that the agency will resume high-risk activities this week.

Another — and perhaps more lasting — threat is to the morale and retention of FDA and USDA staff. The dedicated staff at these agencies should be commended for continuing to work unpaid throughout this shutdown in the interest of public health.

The question is how long they will be able to stay on the job. With morale undoubtedly shaken as the shutdown drags on and paychecks unissued, government workers are being forced to look into alternative employment. Job search site Indeed.com reported that federal employee job searches are up 17 percent since the start of the shutdown, offering data that backs concerns we have over qualified food inspectors leaving for other jobs.

These people are not easily replaced. They are skilled employees who require significant training. In today’s tight labor market, they are highly valuable and have options. Replacing any departing staff will take months, extending the consequences of the shutdown in a way that could be felt for a very long time.

By the administration’s own estimate, the cost to the U.S. economy is swelling and far greater than its first assessment. But the true cost will be harder to quantify, with intangible losses in trust and talent likely to linger. It’s time to bring this shutdown to an end and start the process of restoring faith — in food safety and in government.



How the Government Shutdown Affects the CPG Industry »

January 11, 2019

UPDATED JAN. 18 – Now 28 days in to the longest government shutdown in history, the cracks are starting to show. The compounding effects of the shutdown are being felt well beyond the Beltway and the lingering damage threatens to last for months, if not years.

Political Situation Shows No Signs of Improving 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requested President Trump postpone the State of the Union address, citing security concerns, until the shutdown is over. Trump retaliated on Thursday, canceling a planned congressional delegation to Afghanistan, Egypt and Belgium. In short, there’s no evidence a compromise is on the horizon.

Economic Effects Worse Than First Thought

By the administration’s own estimate, the cost to the U.S. economy is swelling and far greater than its first assessment. Wall Street analysts reportedly fear zero growth in the near term, but are concerned about the longer term implications. “The protracted impasse could convince consumers and businesses that the federal government will spend all of 2019 on the brink of crisis — whether on the border wall, trade with China or the debt limit,” wrote Politico’s Ben White. “That could choke business investment and consumer spending, bringing an end to one of the longest economic expansions on record.”

FDA Resumes Some Inspection Activity

The announcement that FDA would stop routine food inspections spurred rampant consumer confusion, as addressed in this recent GMA blog. As of this week, tens of thousands of federal employees have been called back to work (unpaid), including at the FDA, where high risk food inspections and sampling have resumed.

Government Employees Look for New Opportunities, Prolonging Negative Effects

Job search site Indeed.com reported that federal employee job searches are up 17 percent since the start of the shutdown. Replacing departing staff — particularly for highly skilled jobs like food inspectors — will take months, dragging the negative effects of the shutdown beyond its end date, whenever that may be.

The CPG industry, federal employees and the American people should not be collateral damage of a political fight. It is past time for Congress and the White House to come together to resolve the issue before it gets any worse.

POSTED JAN 11. —————————————————————————————————————————————-

The standoff over $5.7 billion in border wall funding that led to the federal government being shuttered 21 days ago threatens to become the longest in history if it extends until tomorrow. Beyond historical implications, today marks a critical point in this political battle as federal employees miss their first paycheck since the shutdown began.

Political Environment Today

While the situation could change by the minute, at present, both President Trump and congressional Democrats are dug in on their positions and show no signs of yielding. Trump reportedly walked out of a meeting with Democrats at the White House on Wednesday and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) has been vocal about her belief the wall is “immoral.” There has been some softening of Senate Republicans — Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Shelley Moore Capito (WV) have indicated a willingness to reopen government, and Senators Cory Gardner (CO) and Susan Collins (ME) are both up for reelection in swing states next year — but the number is not substantial enough to reopen the government at this point and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) has said he will not call for a vote without Trump’s approval.

What It Means for the CPG Industry

Three weeks in, the cascading effects of the shutdown are hitting the CPG industry. GMA is tracking the developments and consequences as this shutdown drags on.

Stoppage of routine inspections may make Americans nervous about the safety of their food.

A rash of coverage this week about FDA’s inspections being halted by the shutdown gave reason for Americans to question the safety of their food. While this anxiety is understandable, the real effect should be minimal. FDA uses a risk-based approach to target inspections. POLITICO’s Helena Bottemiller Evich tweeted that routine inspections were “not really comparable to fire response. Maybe more like fire marshal inspections. [For what it’s worth] FDA foodborne illness outbreak investigations & response, high-risk recalls, etc., continue through shutdown.”

GMA’s science lead, Dr. Betsy Booren confirmed “if there is a food safety outbreak, rest assure that there is a process and team in place that will be activated — in issues of public health, these agencies are still working.”

Regulatory issues are at a standstill with significant uncertainty.

The government shut down just two days after the new bioengineered disclosure standards were announced, leaving it in regulatory limbo. Other key issues like the nutrition facts panel, Dietary Guidelines and development of industry guidance are also on hold. Further, when the government does open, it is not a simple flip of the switch, and it will likely take time to ramp back up.

It is costing the industry money as tariff exclusion requests go unconsidered.

CPG suppliers looking for exclusion requests on steel and aluminum tariffs are unable to have their requests granted — or even considered — by the Department of Commerce. Three weeks of requests and counting add to an existing backlog of requests yet to be processed, exacerbating the delays.

The CPG industry is intensely focused on creating sustainable and environmentally responsible packaging. As visuals of overflowing waste in America’s National Parks have come to represent the shutdown, it is clear that trash and recycling pickup should be considered an essential function.

With trash service suspended at National Parks, the pileup of waste has become a consistent visual of the effects of the government shut down. The CPG industry has committed to sustainable packaging and has made great progress, and it is disappointing to see the images of trash improperly disposed of cluttering national treasures. Environmental responsibility should not be abandoned in political fights and waste pickup should be made an essential function even during government shutdowns.

Information and scientific innovation is limited with government research halted.

With research at agencies like USDA and National Science Foundation at a standstill, and key indicators like jobs and retail sales numbers not being released, information that CPG businesses rely on is not coming through and may be slow to recover.

Government workers are shaken and looking for employment elsewhere, leading to unknown and long-term impacts even after the shutdown ends.

The uncertainty over paychecks in a time of low unemployment makes for fertile recruiting ground. Reports of workers calling in sick to work at or interview for other jobs and higher rates of turnover during the shutdown are starting to roll in. In addition, workers hired before the shutdown are stuck waiting to start. At FDA, where there are 1,400 vacancies, onboarding and recruitment efforts are at a standstill.



Our New Year’s Resolution? Help Americans Lose 638 Million Pounds »

December 21, 2018

The best New Year’s resolutions must be achievable and practical if you intend to keep them. So, we decided that losing 638 million pounds sounded reasonable.

No, really! Hear us out.

Food waste is a major problem in America. And because far too many of us aren’t sure when to throw away old products (what do those pesky date labels mean anyway?), we’ve landed on the prevailing wisdom of “if in doubt, throw it out.” A report by Harvard Law School’s Food Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that more than 90 percent of Americans may toss food too early because they misinterpret date labels.

What’s worse, the USDA estimates 133 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States each year. That’s nearly a third of the available food supply of 430 billion pounds, and more than $161 billion worth of food wasted.

We can do better. And in 2019, we will. If every American household held on to 10 items — just 10! — we could lose 638 million pounds of waste.

Don’t worry, we’re going to help you get there. Last year, food and beverage manufacturers and grocery retailers got together to help solve this problem. They came up with two simple, streamlined labels: USE By and BEST If Used By.

Gone are the days of wondering what “sell by” means to you or if “enjoy by” has anything to do with safety. Much simpler, isn’t it?

Nearly nine-in-ten (88%) Americans say that these definitions are clear to them. Another 85 percent say these simpler terms would be helpful to them, making them feel safer, waste less, save money, and feel more confident about the products they use.

Top Benefits of Simpler Product Labels

  • Feeling safer about what is consumed
  • Throwing less away
  • Saving money by throwing less away
  • Being more confident in products used

 

 

Join us in our fight against food waste. There is a long way to go, but even small changes can make a big difference—638 million pounds by our count.

Add your voice to the #10ItemsLess pledge. Click to share.

To learn more about this issue, please check out GMA’s new report, Best If Clearly Labeled.



GMA’s Best Days Are Ahead »

November 20, 2018

By Geoff Freeman, GMA president and CEO

My first 100 days at GMA have been productive – listening to voices across the industry, identifying areas of common cause and putting in place a high-performing team. Day-by-day, with the help of new senior leadership, we are pivoting from defense to offense. We have analyzed critical functions, targeted key investments and addressed gaps in strategy with a single goal in mind: building an association that is indispensable to the industry.

Defining Who We Are: Brands

To build that association, the first question we must answer is: who is the industry? In recent years GMA’s effectiveness has been hampered by trying to be all things to all people – from food and beverage to household and personal care; from prominent brands, food service and private label to agricultural components. Our future success depends on deciding who we are at our core.

I firmly believe that GMA’s best strategy is to become the association of consumer-facing brands. This defines our common ground — the challenges, risks and opportunities we all share and complex relationships with consumers, retailers and governments we all must manage. These brands will drive GMA’s future, and we will continue to welcome suppliers and partners who find common cause with our agenda.

Getting There from Here

The following critical pivots will provide our core membership with an association that can capture their imagination and deliver on their goals:

Promote Growth in a Vast, Complex Industry. From packaging to supply chain, countless issues drive consumer demand, impact brand equity and shape short- and long-term profitability. GMA’s new advocacy agenda will address each key component of our members’ businesses. At present, we are myopically focused on the food and beverage product: ingredient, nutrition and safety. Moving forward, we will expand our horizons to focus on removing frictions within packaging, supply chain and customer generation that pose barriers to growth.

• Establish a Proactive Agenda. When it comes to external engagement, we are currently operating on playing fields defined by our opponents — reacting to their critiques, rather than establishing our own objectives; allowing them to set the terms of debate, rather than driving a winning result based on terms we define. Going forward, our proactive agenda will be framed by three questions: What can we do for the industry that members alone cannot achieve? What are our top priorities? And, what is the strategy that will empower us to achieve our objectives?

• Tell the Industry’s Story on our Terms. Our industry’s massive economic footprint and vast social contributions improve communities across America. Yet instead of aggressively communicating these benefits, GMA is silent. Our critics, on the other hand, relentlessly shape a counter narrative about “Big Food” – and they are winning. Their voices, left to echo through our silence, define our industry as indifferent or even hostile to the needs of consumers. Brands effectively connect with consumers about their shared values; the broader CPG industry must do the same by confidently telling our industry’s story on our own terms.

Components of a Winning Strategic Plan

These pivots above will enable GMA to be relevant, but our goal is to be indispensable. While a longer-term strategy is still being formulated, I see five key components to driving GMA’s transition in 2019:

• Build a Nimble Organization that Can Execute an Advocacy Agenda. Our strategy is founded on creating a policy environment where our industry can thrive and grow. First and foremost, GMA must become known as a skilled and powerful industry advocate. To achieve this objective, we must build an organizational structure and best-in-class public affairs operation that can quickly adapt to issues that arise in the marketplace and seize fast-moving opportunities. To this end, many of GMA’s 110 legacy committees are likely to be eliminated.

• Maximize Progress Across Our Entire Industry. GMA’s number one responsibility is to do for the industry what individual members alone cannot achieve. Looking forward, projects that benefit only the few will be shelved in favor of those that create industrywide opportunity or address systemic risk.

• Adopt a Pro-Consumer Posture Oriented Towards Growth. Our mission will be growing the size of the overall pie, so our members can compete for share, not protecting the status quo. We will promote growth by removing frictions — inefficiencies, costs, barriers — from the marketplace. To best identify these frictions, GMA must think like business leaders and consumers. We will shift our day-to-day mindset to the pro-consumer concepts of affordable access, consumer choice and confidence, and product innovation.

• Define Clear Principles for Engagement. In the past, we have struggled with the question of how, when and to what end we should engage on complex product-specific issues. Why? Largely because we lack a set of overarching principles to guide our engagement. We can’t fight and expect to win every arbitrary or ill-defined battle. We must determine what GMA stands for — the red lines we will not cross — and use those criteria to evaluate issues as they emerge.

• Shape Perception to Drive Favorable Policy. I have always believed that perception drives policy – and our industry is no exception. By communicating our economic impact, social contributions, efforts to adapt to changing consumer preferences and investments in disruptive technologies, we can overcome the negative stereotypes that are being fueled by our opponents and reshape public perception of our industry. GMA will lead an ongoing, research-based campaign to shape the industry narrative and proudly tell our story.

As we arrive at this critical moment of strategic clarity, I am convinced that GMA’s best days are ahead. Change will not always come as quickly or easily as we would like, but I am confident that a trade organization focused on an advocacy agenda, supported by the right organizational structure and committed to driving greater industry growth is precisely what our industry needs today.



Navigating the Journey to Transparency with SmartLabel® »

August 3, 2018

By Matthew Allan

I recently returned from a trip down the Colorado River, and being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon without cell service or Netflix gave me an opportunity to reflect on the life of John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran who led the first federally-sponsored geographic study through the canyon. Powell’s expedition was fraught with danger and hardships, but he came out of it with the conviction that to truly see the Grand Canyon, “you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths.” It would be hyperbolic to compare just about anything to an expedition into one of the last unmapped regions of the lower 48 states, but I’m more interested in the spirit that led Powell “down the Great Unknown,” as he called it.

I began working on the SmartLabel® project a year ago, and that coincidence has been invaluable in allowing me to track just how far this initiative has come since last August. The SmartLabel® database has now crossed 30,000 products, with just about 20,000 products added over the past year. These SKUs have come in from intrepid food, beverage, personal care, and household product companies, retailers, and emerging brands, all willing to do things a little bit differently. This growth is a testament to the investment that participating brands and service providers have made in greater product transparency and their confidence that this transparency can build trust and develop enduring relationships with their consumers.

We’ve often employed the metaphor of a journey when we talk about the SmartLabel® adoption process, and I like that language because journeys won’t always be simple. In this case, the monthly toil could be determining how to define “natural flavor” or “fragrance” in consumer-friendly language or providing new information on a brand’s sustainability practices. The companies participating in the SmartLabel® initiative have taken on this work because they know that it is the right approach for their brands and the industry going forward.

The consumer awareness campaign that launched in June is one of the first opportunities we’ve had to share the SmartLabel® journey with consumers. We had consumers discover the initiative before, either through search or engagement with a brand. But with 30,000 products, SmartLabel® had a significant presence on the shelves and it was time to promote SmartLabel® to consumers at large.

The campaign featured digital media, earned media, advertising, and other content to show consumers how they could get more information than could ever fit on a package label.

While it’s still relatively early in the scope of the entire campaign, there’s a lot to be excited about:

  • We partnered with an online influencer, the Johnson Family. A Johnson Family video on how SmartLabel® works for them has been viewed more than 260,000 times since early June, more than three times our initial goal.
  • The series of television, radio, and internet interviews about SmartLabel® with Sally Greenberg of the National Consumers League reached an audience of 40 million people.
  • Our @SmartLabelInfo featured organic digital content promoting the campaign earning 17.2k impressions and a 0.9% engagement rate in the first month.
  • Through a sponsorship with Today’s Dietitian, we reached registered dietitians with an e-blast to their contact list garnering a 76.7% open rate and 12.6% CTR.
  • SmartLabel® app downloads in June 2018 were higher than the combined download total for the two preceding months (April and May 2018). The app is available for iOS and Android
  • SmartLabel® and the #GoBeyondTheLabel hashtag even made their way to Times Square.

 

 

The early results are encouraging, but the effort to promote SmartLabel® to consumers is hardly done. Beginning in late July, metro riders here in the greater Washington, DC region will see a series of SmartLabel® advertisements designed to reach Millennial moms and Hill staffers alike. Participating brands have begun rolling out messaging targeted to their consumers.

If you’re interested in hearing more about these ongoing efforts, I hope you’ll join us at this year’s SmartLabel® Summit. Our office manages a digital asset toolkit that can help jumpstart your brands’ efforts to share the SmartLabel® journey with your consumers. Implementing SmartLabel® can feel like an expedition into the great unknown at times, and the Summit is a great opportunity to learn from others who have already navigated this journey.



Food and Consumer Product Fraud: Prevention and Mitigation »

April 18, 2018

By Brian Bedard, Executive Director, GMA Science & Education Foundation

Wood pulp in shredded Parmesan cheese.  Melamine in baby formula and pet food. Asian catfish sold as grouper.  Pomegranate juice cut with grape juice.  Honey diluted with beet sugar syrup. These are just some of the cases of product fraud involving food or beverage products that have occurred in the U.S. market in recent years.

In today’s global marketplace, there are inherent risks to the integrity of the supply chain and the authenticity of its food and consumer products. Some estimate that food fraud, or economically motivated adulteration (EMA) as it is also known, costs the world economy $49 billion annually and it has been estimated that about 10 percent of the food we purchase is likely adulterated. In addition to the public health risks, the impact on any one particular company can range from minor economic damage to financial ruin.  The growing complexity of the global supply chain has only made it more difficult for companies in our industry to prevent product fraud.

The issue of product fraud recently took center stage during a session at the GMA Science Forum in late March in Washington, DC.  The session built on a 2010 consumer product fraud report,

Consumer Product Fraud: Deterrence and Detection, released by ATKearney with the support of GMA and the GMA Science and Education Foundation (SEF).  It explored the evolving scope of issues and approaches to better understand, assess and prevent product fraud.  The session provided attendees with a look at the experiences and lessons learned by herbal supplement and pharmaceutical manufacturers on how best to prevent and mitigate product fraud.  The session also included an update on research at Michigan State University (MSU) supported by GMA and the SEF that attempts to more clearly define product fraud and address the growing confusion around this terminology so that companies can be better aligned in their efforts to attack the problem.

Dr. Holly Johnson of the American Herbal Products Association set the scene with some historical perspective.  She noted that product fraud was not a new phenomenon. She cited a report from 1853 which found that Prussian blue was often grounded and mixed with gypsum and then blended with Himalayan tea to ensure it presented the perfect green color that the tea drinkers of England expected at that time.

Dr. Johnson noted that the herbal sector today must contend with fraud cases involving the substitution and drug spiking of herbal remedies for male enhancement (laced with sildenafil), weight loss (laced with diuretics, laxatives) and athletic performance (laced with steroids). She stressed that enforceable FDA regulations supported by standards and specifications associated with the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), state-of-the-art industry testing methods and industry-wide transparency efforts have all been critical steps in preventing adulterated herbal products from reaching the marketplace.

Dr. Shabbir J. Safdar, Executive Director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, highlighted past cases associated with heparin, cancer medications and, more recently, counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl.  Dr. Safdar said that industry collaboration has been a key component in addressing drug counterfeiting followed closely by stringent internal enforcement practices.

One of the first steps pharmaceutical companies took to combat the issue was to put in place personnel whose sole focus was on protecting brand security.  This led to closer collaboration with law enforcement agencies accompanied by more stringent internal investigations and robust monitoring of supply chains.  One such successful collaboration has been the Rx360 program of industry wide audits based on shared voluntary standards and a recognized compliance seal.

Safdar also said that international industry collaboration played an important part in efforts to combat counterfeiting.  Those collaborations included work with groups such as the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition Inc., (IACC), the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition and the Pharmaceutical Security Institute.

Dr. John Spink from Michigan State University focused his discussion on food fraud and highlighted the preliminary results of joint research based on a global survey of food fraud terminology conducted by MSU, GMA and SEF.  While there was consensus among respondents in identifying food fraud as a food safety issue with 86% supporting that categorization, the research suggests that there is a lack of consensus within industry on the proper terminology to use for describing food fraud.

Of the terms included to represent “intentional deception for economic gain,” 50% preferred the use of “food fraud,” 15% sided with “economically motivated adulteration,” 9% selected “EMA,” 7% chose “food protection,” 5% preferred “food integrity,” 5% chose “food authenticity,” and 2% liked “food crime.”

Dr. Spink noted that the survey highlighted the confusion in food fraud-related terminology and how the potential overlap in definitions could impede industry efforts to address the issue.  He further stressed that given the current scope of food fraud in the global food marketplace, there is an urgent need to clarify definitions and terms that can collectively be used by companies to address food fraud on a global scale. CODEX is currently reviewing the definitions of food fraud in considerable detail and this work is expected to inform current efforts to achieve better consensus on the terminology around this issue.

The session provided attendees with some important insights and lessons learned on addressing product fraud.  The GMA and SEF are currently updating the ATKearney report to clarify the current scope of this issue and provide industry with guidance on how best to prevent and mitigate it going forward.  The updated report should be released by June.

 



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