Ahold President Cees van der Hoeven: 'Food Safety Top Priority for Industry
These companies have teamed up with key manufacturers to determine benchmark safety standards, install a rapid alert system, promote consumer education on food handling and encourage worldwide government support to secure the quality of food chains.
In a keynote speech to almost 1,000 CEOs of food retail and production companies at the World Food Business Forum in Prague Friday afternoon, the Ahold President emphasized the need to address the 'widespread and deep-set unease that consumers sense today on issues related to the safety of food.'
Speaking on behalf of 38 food retailers affiliated to the newly-formed Global Food Safety Initiative, Van der Hoeven said: 'Food is safer than ever. We cannot accept that food items, rightly or wrongly, are perceived as unsafe. We are acting now to enhance consumer confidence. We will shoulder at least our own responsibility on behalf of the consumer.
It is obvious that there are other parties who should do the same.'
Van der Hoeven commented on the important role of government in ensuring food safety. 'Though legislation and controls historically ensured that food was produced safely, governments now have to step up their role in securing food safety. They need to focus on the weakest links in food chains. They must recognize the safety measures being taken by responsible food production and distribution players. There is plenty of opportunity for partnership in this process.'
Global food safety benchmark standards
The Ahold President said agreement has been reached among retailers and producers on fewer but stricter benchmark food safety standards. 'Instead of more than 135 different standards, we want to use only a few which are the best and fully protect consumer interests,' he said. 'In addition, good practices in agriculture, manufacturing and distribution and hazard analysis (HACCP) have top priority. Protocols have been developed for accrediting the auditing and certifying bodies - subject to rigorous scrutiny and accountability - to ensure compliance with these global standards.'
Rapid alert system
Van der Hoeven announced the development of an early warning system ready for October implementation to enhance the rapid alert process with suppliers, government and other parties. 'Traditionally - and too often - food reaches the consumer before sufficient information is available to take a food safety decision,' he said. 'This situation serves neither our sense of social responsibility nor our business interests. Our industry has agreed to improve the speed and effectiveness of our response to food safety crises.'
Promoting consumer education
Surveys show that few consumers really understand new food technologies like irradiation, biotechnology, genetic modification or integrated crop protection. 'We also know that the consumer's kitchen is still a weak link in the food chain,' the Ahold President said. 'Through the Global Food Safety Initiative, food retailers are directing their branch organizations like the CIES in Europe and the FMI in the U.S. as well as local associations to heighten awareness of kitchen hygiene, proper food preparation and simple safe food-handling messages directly to the consumer. A worldwide approach is necessary as people have the right to safe food wherever they are. That's why we call it a global initiative.'
Robust government action a prerequisite
In conclusion, Van der Hoeven commented that seldom has there been such cooperation among retailers and manufacturers that would normally regard each other as true competitors. 'Let me be clear,' he said. 'We are working together on a non-competitive basis to address the truly top priority of food safety. As leading industry players, we urge governments to assume their responsibility at national and international level, with sanctions at hand to keep irresponsible behavior at bay. We respect the role of the Food & Drug Administration in the United States to secure food safety and, in our opinion, there is nothing wrong with Europe copying all the good things the FDA represents. We are committed to ensuring that consumers find only safe, quality food on the shelves of their supermarkets and hypermarkets around the world.'
The following retail companies belong to the Global Food Safety Initiative:
Ahold, The Netherlands; Albert Heijn, The Netherlands; Albertson's, USA; Asda Stores, UK; Auchan, France; AGWEST, Australia; Carrefour, France; COOP, Switzerland; CWS, UK; Delhaize, Belgium; Dunnes Stores, Ireland; Edeka, Germany; Esselunga, Italy; FDB, Denmark; Globus, Germany; ICA, Sweden; JMR, Portugal; Kesko, Finland; Laurus, The Netherlands; Loblaw, Canada; Marks & Spencer, UK; Metro, Germany; Opera, France; Rewe, Germany; Sainsbury's, UK; Sobey's, Canada; Somerfield, UK; Sonae, Portugal; SQTS, Switzerland; Superquinn, Ireland; Supersol, Israel; Tegut Gutberlet, Germany; Tesco, UK; Waitrose, UK; Woolworths, Australia; Woolworths, South Africa.
Editor's note: The Ahold President's address to the World Food Business Forum this afternoon (June 22) is also being distributed in full, in addition to this press release.
Royal Ahold operates approximately 8,500 supermarkets, hypermarkets and other store formats in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia with consolidated 2000 sales of close to USD 50 billion (Euro 52.5 billion). The company also has a significant presence in the foodservice sector and is swiftly developing its position in internet-based home delivery. Ahold employs almost 420,000 associates and serves the food needs of over 35 million customers and more than 200,000 foodservice accounts in 25 countries every week. Ahold's website can be found at www.ahold.com.
This Royal Ahold press release contains 'forward-looking' statements. Actual results may differ from such statements as they may have been influenced by factors beyond the Company's ability to control, as more fully discussed in the company's annual report.
Source: Royal Ahold, Media Relations