The U.S. food safety regulatory system is “a model for the world,” inspiring trust in comparison to systems in other countries, a Kraft Foods, Inc. official contends.

“We enjoy a high level of public confidence in the U.S., which comes, in part, from the private sector's commitment to take its responsibilities seriously,” says Betsy D. Holden, co-chief executive officer of the company and president/CEO of Kraft Foods North America.

A great deal of the credit is also due “strong leadership” in the USDA, Food and Drug Administration, and other government agencies, she said at the annual Agricultural Outlook Forum at Arlington, Va.

Noting that European confidence in the safety of the food supply over the last decade “has suffered,” with significant economic and political consequences, she cautioned “we must never allow the confidence we enjoy here to become a cause of complacency; we should always look for ways to improve safety, while continuing to maintain a healthy, vibrant marketplace.”

The search for an even safer food supply, Holden says, should be guided by five principles in the regulatory process:

  • Regulations should be based on solid risk assessment and consensus science.

    “Doing so will help us to focus scarce resources where they will do the most good, and insure that the protective measures we take are truly meaningful.”

  • Regulatory bodies should provide transparency around the safety assessments they conduct.

    “There will be times when complete transparency won't be possible; genuine trade secrets, for example, deserve protection. But in general, we should seek the fullest transparency possible, because it increases confidence — just as lack of it usually breeds suspicion (whether justified or not).”

  • Government should increase its investment in preventive technology.

    “The more we focus on preventing problems before they occur, rather than detecting them after they've happened, the better off we'll be.”

  • Government must have adequate resources to get the job done.

    “This should include resources not just for research, but also for timely risk assessment and to appropriately train and equip an adequate inspection force.”

  • Everyone should continue efforts to educate consumers on the role they must play to help insure food safety.

“The most prevalent risks to safety are still in the home,” Holden says. “The more we empower consumers to protect themselves, the greater their trust will be.”

Food security is a “critical trust factor, made all the more important by the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” she notes.

“In response, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration have developed strong food security guidelines for industry, on top of the regulatory protections already in place.”

Kraft has invested more than $30 million since 9/11 to enhance safeguards, she says, using government guidelines to conduct comprehensive assessments and identify “where we believe the risks are highest.” This resulted in adoption of a range of new procedures governing people, products, and equipment, to address the risks.

“Each of us — from farmer to retailer — has a part to play,” Holden says. “We must all rely on each other to guard the integrity of our products as they move along the food chain. And it's government's role to insure that, across the board, industry is following the USDA/FDA guidelines and implementing all necessary protections.”

Government, production agriculture, and food manufacturers working together, she says, “can insure that the most prolific agricultural nation on earth becomes even more productive. Together, we can build demand by creating products that truly fit the way people live — and that earn their trust.”

hbrandon@primediabusiness.com