CEO Sleeps Better With Security Measures
By Ronald Margulis
Last week’s Food Safety Summit in Washington, DC coincided with the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and many of the questions asked about the safety of the food supply
here and abroad remain unanswered.
Equally important, the number of food borne illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. last year remained steady at 76 million, 325,000 and 5,000, respectively.
Adding to the food security and food borne illness challenges facing the food industry was the discovery of the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE of “Mad Cow
disease”) in the state of Washington just prior to Christmas last year. All of this resulted in a lot to talk about at a conference dedicated to food safety and sanitation issues.
On the positive side, there have been significant resources added to supporting food safety and security efforts at the federal level. Dr. Bob Brackett, director of the Center
for Food Security and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration, reported that the current budget includes an addition $65 million for food security, raising the amount
dedicated to the issue to more then $160 million.
Dr. Brackett said much of the new money would be used to protect Americans from terrorist threats to the country’s food supply, and to improving the efficiency with which the
government manages risk.
He also described the formation of the Food Emergency Response Network, a group of labs and government agencies that can quickly test the safety of food and enable a rapid response
to terrorist activity.
As important as it was to hear from a top government official, the attendees probably took the other keynote speaker more to heart.
Robert Lawless, chairman, president and CEO of McCormick, stated that the spice company developed and executed a comprehensive food security plan since Sept. 11, 2001. The company,
which has suppliers all around the world, is also actively involved with sharing its experiences with others in the industry, with Lawless calling food security programs an imperative
and not grounds for a competitive advantage.
“The top levels of our company know there are threats to our company, our industry and our country as a whole,” he concluded, adding that McCormick’s food security efforts are
“very serious, it costs a lot of money, but it helps CEO’s like me sleep better at night.”
Moderator’s Comment: Is the food supply safer now than it was one year ago? Will it be safer one year from now?
Regardless of the BSE discovery, the food supply is no better or worse than it was last year. It only takes one attack to change this perception, however.
If an attack does occur in the next 12 months, and several government officials have said it is a matter of when rather than if there will be an attack, the importance of next
year’s summit will be even greater. – Ron Margulis – Moderator