Food scares, global sourcing, litigation - there has never been a more challenging time for manufacturers when it comes to food safety. So when ISO, the International Organisation for Standardisation, last year published ISO 22000 as a one-size-fits-all yardstick against which all members of the supply chain around the world could be certified, the idea was commended.
But nearly six months since its launch, does ISO 22000 really look like it will replace existing food safety standards?
The thinking behind the new standard is that it will harmonise food safety requirements on a global basis and provide some much needed clarity. It’s hard to argue with the logic. Although the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), the body set up in 2000 to address issues of food safety, has benchmarked only four post-farmgate standards (BRC Global Food Standard, IFS, Dutch HACCP and SQF 2000), there are more than 20 food safety verification schemes around the world.
Suppliers who want to export can find themselves having to comply with three or four different standards. This can lead to varying levels of food safety, extra costs for manufacturers and general confusion over the many requirements.
However, some experts argue that there is no need for harmonisation. David Edwards, director at CMI Consulting, says: “The key question is still: will ISO 22000 simply become just another of the preferred standards in selected parts of the global market, led by some retailers and manufacturers? You could ask why the major retailers, manufacturers and other suppliers should rush to adopt the new standard when own label retailers in the UK are generally happy with the BRC Global Food Standard, as are the German and French retailers with the IFS standard.”
UK retailers have worked with the BRC over many years to refine the BRC Global Food Standard to meet due diligence and supplier assurance requirements with specific guidance on good practice and compliance levels. ISO 22000 lacks this specific guidance. Roger Frost, ISO communications manager, says: “ISO 22000 tells organisations in the food supply chain what they need to do to implement a food safety management system, but does not impose how they should meet these requirements because this will vary with their specific activity, size and so on.”
So certain details are missing, but this is the cost of having a unified standard for the supply chain. This raises a key point about adoption: for ISO 22000 to be a success it needs to be adopted by retailers who will in turn require it of their suppliers. Considering its lack of detail, is this likely?
Sainsbury reports no desire to switch to ISO 22000. Alec Kyriakides, head of product safety at Sainsbury, says: “Currently the only standard we recognise for food is the BRC Global Food Standard. We recognise the benefits of the ISO 22000 standard in providing a useful overarching framework for food safety management. However, it is complementary and not a substitute for the BRC standard as the latter provides more specific and detailed requirements.”
Tesco says: “While the ISO standard could be considered as a foundation food safety management system, we will continue to require either BRC or IFS certification within our supply chain. We believe these standards are more appropriate for retail use.”
Morrisons also recognises only the BRC.
In the UK at least then, retailers are not convinced. However, ISO 22000 has one trick up its sleeve. Until now there has been no internationally accepted food safety management standard for implementing the Codex HACCP system for food hygiene. ISO 22000 changes this. Now part of the EU food laws, this could, over time, convince manufacturers to measure themselves against the standard, whether retailers require it or not.
Kevin Swoffer, BRC head of technical services, says the BRC standard is sufficient, adding: “We’ve always had HACCP incorporated into our standard.”
Clearly, if the ISO standard is to be accepted, retailers will need to be convinced. For that to happen, ISO needs to take a more collaborative approach with retailers in developing its standard.
The consensus, however, is that ISO 22000 will slowly become the standard. Fifty countries have already adopted or are in the process of doing so. Ultimately, says Swoffer: “It all comes down to choice. What do retailers and manufacturers feel most comfortable with? A generic standard that can be met in a number of ways, or a very prescriptive standard that ensures suppliers are working to the same processes?”
Traceability: one step forward?
>>Challenging new obligations - but will they make a real difference?
Tom Snelling, food safety specialist at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, dissects the new laws on traceability: “The new EU food law regime has further shifted responsibility for food safety from the regulator to the regulated. New traceability obligations for the first time apply to all food businesses operating in the food chain.
“This ‘one step forward, one step back’ approach is deceptively straightforward and in reality poses a number of challenges:
n All food businesses must have systems in place that can deliver fast and accurate traceability information on demand;
n Records may need to be kept for up to five years;
n Internal traceability systems are also encouraged by regulators so that withdrawals can be targeted;
n The record-keeping obligation also applies to EU importers and exporters;
n Food businesses now also have to demonstrate that they have effective HACCP-based food safety procedures in place.
“Compliance has proved extremely difficult for farmers and smaller suppliers. The jury is still out on whether the new laws will significantly improve the industry’s ability to respond to food safety crises.”