The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and Mars Incorporated signed a landmark partnership agreement on Oct. 20, 2015 aimed at promoting international standards for food safety and quality, improving food safety management based on scientific principles to reduce foodborne illness, and facilitating global access to information.
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“The partnership’s ultimate goal is to achieve better food safety and quality along the entire food chain, especially in developing countries,” says Ren Wang, PhD, assistant director-general of FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department.
Of key importance, under the agreement, Mars, one of the largest global food manufacturers, is supporting FAO’s food safety program by providing access to food safety data, in particular with regard to the occurrence of harmful metabolites from certain fungi (mycotoxins) that can affect important staple crops, such as corn, Dr. Wang points out.
“The data and knowledge related to mycotoxin contamination developed by Mars are expected to be of great benefit in expanding the functionalities of the FAO mycotoxin sampling tool, which has already drawn the interest of a number of member countries, as well as other UN agencies,” Dr. Wang relates. “This sampling tool supports countries in the determination of the average concentration of mycotoxins in important crops, a notoriously difficult problem for food safety authorities.”
Mars will also provide expertise, data, and insights relative to other microbiological foodborne pathogens, including Salmonella, adds Dave Crean, vice president of corporate research and development at Mars.
“Mars will look to provide data relevant to those, and provide experts in key areas such as traceability,” Crean says. “Mars recognizes that a lot of the work it does generates data, and some of that will have direct relevance to FAO as a public health tool, so Mars and FAO are exploring that together.”
“FAO is currently developing guidance on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and the use of microbiological criteria in the management of food safety risks linked to low moisture ready-to-eat foods, in particular those produced from maize and/or cassava,” Dr. Wang elaborates. “To have the support and expertise from Mars experts available, as well as access to real-life data from pilot scale productions process, will greatly help in ensuring that the GMPs are effective in protecting the consumers.”
A work plan of collaborative activities covering the period 2016-2017 has been developed and quarterly meetings will be held to monitor their progress, Dr. Wang reports.
“Inasmuch as partnerships with the private sector are critical to improve food safety globally, FAO embraces opportunities to engage with the food industry at national and international levels,” Dr. Wang says. “With these engagements, FAO’s goal is to both leverage and disseminate knowledge that will promote effective food safety practices along the entire food chain. We anticipate that our collaboration with Mars will strengthen our message to countries that food safety is best achieved through effective public-private partnership.”
Crean concurs. “This agreement with FAO is very important for Mars, as it clearly demonstrates our mutual way of working and our shared commitment to open and multidisciplinary collaborations,” he emphasizes. “Since unsafe food kills thousands of people every day and also damages the economies of developing nations, we believe our shared work will showcase food safety in the critical context of food security. Simply stated, we mutually believe if it’s not safe it’s not food.”