Thomas Friedman is correct — the world is flat — at least there's no question that today's business world is flat. U.S. agriculture in general and pork production in specific (with 15 percent of its annual production headed to other countries) are major players in the food export market worldwide.
That not only opens marketing opportunities, it opens up people's minds and the need to find ways to address potential challenges.
Most recently, major U.S. food makers, including Cargill and ConAgra Foods, gathered to create and outline a plan designed to boost import-safety guidelines, as well as funding for federal regulation.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association took the reins. Officials there say the objective is to create a plan to help the Food and Drug Administration ensure the safety of food products being imported in to the United States.
The plan outlines the adoption of a foreign supplier quality assurance program. It requires food companies and importers to verify product quality and safety by sharing supply-chain data. It also proposes that U.S. officials assist foreign governments to improve their food-safety standards, with the goal of getting them aligned closer to those of FDA.
This is a proactive step, and an innovative one, as it illustrates a broader perspective and new thinking for a global business world. What would some consumer activist groups think? After all, these are "mega" food companies working with government agencies and other countries to find a solution for the good of the whole — what's up with that?
Well, it's an example of a new business model in a new era in a new world. Following this year's pet food debacle, U.S. companies paid a dear price for the mistakes of a foreign ingredient supplier. Consumers' trust and brand loyalty is gone. GMA and its members accurately understands that the global food chain is interdependent; that FDA can have all the regulations in place it can think of, but it means nothing if other countries don't follow suit. They also understand that today more than ever, it's smarter and more cost effective to head issues off as best you can.
Further, GMA recognizes FDA's tight staffing and budget scenario and says it plans to donate money to help the agency enhance its ability to protect the U.S. food supply. As imported food products continue to set records, the agency's ability to inspect all goods has diminished. In 2006, FDA reportedly inspected less than 2 percent of the products it oversees.
Of course some consumer groups will only see this as a conflict of interest, and frame it that the food companies are "buying" their products' way into the country.
"Because we cannot simply inspect our way to a safer food supply, industry can apply its vast knowledge and practical experience along the entire supply chain to prevent problems before they arise," Cal Dooley, GMA president. "Under our proposal, a fortified FDA will be right there with us to make sure we do it right."