University of Minnesota leads collaboration on global food safety

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- Recent program involved senior officials from China; Bellagio is next -

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL ( 11/19/2008 ) -- International food safety expert Will Hueston, professor of veterinary medicine and public health at the University of Minnesota, is leading efforts to build an international network of food system leaders focused on food safety and sustainability. As part of this work, Hueston recently conducted a program with 19 senior officials from China, at sites in Europe and North America. In early December, he will lead a three-day work session at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy.

"We want to catalyze new thinking for sustainable food systems around the world," said Hueston, who is executive director of a new public-private partnership called the Global Initiative for Food Systems Leadership (GIFSL). "Our primary goal is to develop an international leadership network with the expertise and skills to design sustainable food systems that can provide adequate nutrition to all while effectively managing emerging issues in the food supply at local, national and international levels."

GIFSL has received leadership and financial support from Cargill, General Mills, the Rockefeller Foundation and SSAFE (Safe Supply of Affordable Food Everywhere), as well as funding from the university. Numerous other intergovernmental organizations, food industry companies and academic institutions are contributing expertise and in-kind support as participating partners. GIFSL programs are conducted at sites around the world, providing experiential learning, networking, sharing of best practices, and other opportunities for collaboration.

The International Food Safety Administration program recently brought brought together 19 senior Chinese food safety officials from industry, government and academia. They spent two weeks in Europe and North America meeting with international policy experts, visiting food facilities, and interacting with stakeholders from public, private and academic organizations. Cargill, General Mills and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) were partners. In March, Cargill signed a Memorandum of Understanding with General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) of the People's Republic of China to formally launch the technical exchange program.

Hueston said the central themes of the China program were that communication and shared goals are key to ensuring international food safety, that there is no silver bullet or single perfect system for doing so, and that food safety is the responsibility of everyone involved in the food chain. "Participants agreed that food safety is an obligation, not an option," he said.

The December work session at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy will focus on how to create a dynamic leadership model to address global public health and food system challenges across international communities and cultures. The meeting will bring together scientists, physicians, lawyers, veterinarians and consumer activists to share insights and perspectives from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America and the Caribbean.

"It is important to build a network of people who share a common vision and have common skills for producing and moving food safely around the world," said Mike Robach, vice president of Cargill's Food Safety and Regulatory Affairs, and president of SSAFE.

Cargill gave $2 million to the university to launch GIFSL and establish the endowed Chair for Global Food System Leadership, which is held by Will Hueston. General Mills has helped to fund GIFSL programs through a gift of $1 million to the university.

Educational partners in the initiative include the University of Helsinki, Finland, the National University of Uruguay and the Gates Foundation-funded School of Global Animal Health at Washington State University. Several University of Minnesota centers participate in GIFSL, including the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, recently recognized as a key facilitator for global veterinary services capacity-building by the World Organization for Animal Health.

The University of Minnesota collaborated with the University of Helsinki on an international workshop on food safety control last month, where government officials and researchers from 13 countries looked at ways to evaluate whether or not various food safety measures work when implemented at the national or global level. In 2008, GIFSL programs attracted participants from more than 35 countries.

The University of Minnesota is uniquely positioned to lead this effort because of its experience convening multi-disciplinary private industry, academia, and public agency stakeholders around a common goal. Examples include the National Center for Food Protection and Defense. The center, funded by the Department of Homeland Security and led by the university, is a public-private partnership developing successful new strategies for increased protection of the nation's food supply.

"Our hope is that bringing disparate stakeholders together in noncompetitive settings to share information and best practices will accelerate collaboration across boundaries to reduce starvation and malnutrition, strengthen the agricultural stability and sustainability of developing countries and improve food safety and public health around the world," said Hueston.




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