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2014 SPECIAL EDITION: DAIRY PRODUCT QUALITY TESTING

National protection politics preventing globally-harmonized food safety: SGS

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By Mark Astley+

20-Jun-2014
Last updated on 20-Jun-2014 at 16:38 GMT

Protection politics preventing globally-harmonized food safety: SGS

Protection politics - the employment of policies designed to protect domestic markets and stakeholders - are the single greatest barrier to harmonized worldwide food safety regulations, testing services provider SGS has claimed.

Efforts by organizations such as Codex Alimentarius to bring uniformity to global food safety laws and practices are hindered by nations looking to defend their internal markets, James Cook, food safety technologist, SGS Consumer Testing Services told DairyReporter.com.

“By having uniform regulation throughout the world, products can be moved more freely, and safety and compliance to standards can be more easily met,” said Cook. 

“Unfortunately, what prevents this from happening is protection politics, whereby a country or area tries to protect its products, farmers and markets from being undermined by others in the global community," he said.

These policies mean that those companies tasked with testing products must instead "address country-specific requirements." 

“This means conducting tests specific to one country, that may only be available through one laboratory, and regularly transferring samples all over the world,” said Cook.

Listeria “serious threat”

All food and beverage sectors are becoming more globalized, and dairy is no exception, said Cook.

"For example, China buys infant formula from New Zealand and non-fat dry milk from the US. Cheeses are sold throughout the world, from the country or area that specializes in making them, to customers who have experienced them, or want to try different cheeses," he said.

Cook identified antibiotics and microorganisms as the two greatest quality and safety threats to this increasingly export-driven sector. 

“The current focus of the industry is mainly antibiotics and microorganisms," he said.

"Antibiotic concerns have come to prominence because of the differences between the various national regulations.”

“The issue of microorganisms is a result of the expanding market for non-pasteurized dairy products.”

Of these microorganisms, Cook labelled Listeria monocytogenes as a “serious threat” as it “can grow in refrigerated conditions.”

Melamine “still found”

Cases of economic adulteration, commonly known as food fraud, have been an issue for dairy processors in emerging markets in recent years.

In 2008, six infant died and around 300,000 people were sickened in China after consumer milk powder tainted with melamine. The addition of melamine increases the nitrogen content of milk and the produces a higher protein content during tests.

Cases of this nature are, however, dropping, said Cook.

“Chemically, melamine and its derivatives were an issue,” he said.

“Whilst this adulterant has been reduced dramatically since it was first noted, less than a decade ago, this contaminant is still found in some cases," he added.

1 comment (Comments are now closed)

A statement of the bleeding obvious . . .

The reason that food "safety" standards vary across the world is because there are deeply culturally-imbedded differences in ATTITUDES to food safety.

Safety is a relative, not an absolute criterion. The Japanese eat fugu fish - in part - BECAUSE it's so dangerous. The French will not accept their classic AOC cheeses [Rocquefort, Brie, Causses, Camembert etc.] made from "safe" pasteurised milk - because it then has no taste or smell. They understand the risk to pregnant and nursing mothers and very old people, and advise them to be careful. But it's their decision, not some bumped-up little office-wallah.

If food safety standards ever - God help us! - get harmonised, it is likely there will be industry pressure to align them with US standards. Those have resulted in US food products - think USDA Grade A beef, chicken, any cheese, most fruits - which are beautiful-looking, but tasteless pap. Witness the virtually zero exports of US processed foods to Europe.

So: long live radically different food safety standards, and a big vote of "No thanks" to the bureaucrats and accountants at SGS. Let them mind their own business and stick to examining compliance with standards, rather than questioning the standards themselves.

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Posted by Giles Cattermole
24 June 2014 | 16h21