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The Miller and Food Safety

Posted in Food Safety on November 14, 2018

Food safety issues are becoming more dominant in discussions by stakeholders, especially the milling industry. Fortunately for consumers, recent years have seen the advancement of food safety in the supply chain. Although industry experts have always been aware of the importance of food safety, the recent fundamental shift to explicitly comply and advance food safety regulations is a relatively new phenomenon. It is testament to the work of food safety advocates that the conversation has been shifted towards a food safe system thus an awareness of food safety issues is necessary to operate in the U.S. This article will explain how NAMA is establishing food safety at the forefront of their supply chain and ensuring that members are diligent in understanding the potential dangers of unsafe food practices from production to consumption for consumers. The Miller and Food Safety are two peas in a pod.

IBIS statistics highlight the incredible importance of the U.S. agriculture and food system, providing $2 trillion USD in annual revenue, employment for 19 million people and $130 billion in profit for more than 2.6 million businesses. A business of this magnitude deserve trade associations for the benefit of industry. NAMA, North American Millers’ Association, represents millers of wheat, corn, oats and rye in the U.S. and Canada. NAMA, established since April 1998, strives to deliver nutrition to American consumers, functioning as an organization to be the indispensable link between raw grain and healthy products. Further, NAMA ensures that the U.S. has a plentiful supply of top top quality grains, produced in the most efficient, sustainable and safest way possible to sustain and enrich Americans lives. NAMA campaigns in Washington for its members to ensure that the views of millers across the country are represented in Congress. NAMA works tirelessly to make sure that public policy is not detrimental to the industries that are the lifeblood of its members. Exciting developments related to food safety has led to NAMA establishing food safety and nutrition subcommittees beneath the Technical and Regulatory Committee.

Food recalls have become the main focus of the food safety issues that are affecting NAMA members. The scale of the impact is vast with various types of food now deserving of attention by industry experts. Recalls include allergen recall, peanut, wheat and a pathogen. This has changed the focus of NAMA’s work to ensure that food is safe for consumers to eat. Given that NAMA is responsible for the majority of wheat, corn, oats and rye in North America, their commitment to food safety is an invaluable step to revolutionizing the food system for the better. James A. McCarthy, President and Chief Executive Officer for NAMA, explains how “NAMA is really doing education on food safety, going out, educating fellow associations like the Food Marketing Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Restaurant Association, making organizations aware you need to employ safe food handling techniques”. Collaborating with stakeholders to ensure the highest standards of food safety are upheld is an effective method to ensure that all parties are proactively working together to protect consumers from unsafe food.

Further, NAMA is exploring how technology can be utilized to expand the potential for NAMA members to ensure food safety in the food chain. As technology advances and consumers become more aware of technology’s potential in relation to food, modified food can fortify consumers defenses against infection. For example, in the aftermath of the preliminary recalls in 2016 related to the contamination of family flour with E. coli, new technology would allow for safer flour to fight off illnesses. McCarthy states that “if there will be a zero tolerance, that will be very difficult to achieve”. Instead, the work of NAMA is more sustainable and focuses on education. Ill-informed consumers can place themselves in great danger by not taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves from threats. Changing habits and enforcing safe production to consumption tactics are cost efficient and can keep consumers safe at a fraction of the price to genetically modified foods. McCarthy explains that “our education is on not eating raw flour, cookie dough or cake batter.” NAMA has urged millers to print food safety information on bags of family flour, instructing consumers that flour contains a raw commodity and should be treated as such”.

The importance of agriculture to the U.S. economy is phenomenal. Consequently, the eagerness of NAMA to adopt food safe practices is encouraging given their power and scope of work. Data collected from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) in 2015 found that the food and farming industry is worth approximately 5.5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Transporting this food around the country, from far flung remote villages to thriving urban metropolises, is a huge challenge. NAMA is taking the lead in protecting consumers in the transportation process by initiating a supply chain committee to improve the speed and efficiency of transport. Another promising example of collaboration has occurred between N.G.F.A., the American Bakers Association, the National Oilseed Processors Association and the Pet Food Institute in June where sanitation practices in the clean-out of rail cars/tankers and trucks. McCarthy details that “NAMA is working with the National Grain and Feed Association to ensure cross contamination between wheat and allergens does not occur in rail transportation”. Also emblematic of the importance of food safety to the group, a full-day meeting dedicated to issues related to glyphosate is in the works.

To conclude, the work of NAMA in relation to food safety deserves credit. The current leadership have shown food safety observers that they are willing to enact change within the organization and ensure that consumers are increasingly protected. Examples of successes McCarthy has cited from recent years include the active involvement and comment writing for the Food Safety Modernization Act; lobbying policy makers for improved transportation resources, including an adequate rail fleet; and, this year, advocating for policies that encourage young people to consider careers as truckers; making the case that food aid should be in the form of in-kind versus cash grants; and fighting efforts that would have changed the definition of oat fiber in a way that would have proven highly disadvantageous to most NAMA oat milling members.

By: Billy Rayfield, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)