In this week´s blog we are focusing in the security of global food supply chains, and interviewing Mr. Mark FeDuke of VLM Foods, Canada.
Hi Mark, and thanks for joining a CBRA blog –interview. Can you please first tell who you are and what you do?
I am Mark FeDuke, Director of Operations at VLM Foods Inc. and supply chain integrity management enthusiast.
What type of food processing, trading etc. is the company VLM Foods involved with?
Depending on what metric one uses from what government agency VLM is either a large, international or multinational food company with staff and operations on three continents. Our plant in Costa Rica, Compania Frutera La Paz, is a tropical fruit and root crop processor while our plant in Ecuador, Proquinoa Ecuador, is a dry quinoa processing facility. Complementing our processing business lines, VLM Foods Inc. is a trading company that specializes in exporting North American pork and poultry products as well as importing processed fruits and vegetables that we supply to our clients throughout North America.
OK, thanks for sharing this information. Now, when it comes to supply chain security and trade facilitation initiatives in North America, which ones have you been involved with?
VLM is a long standing partner in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) C-TPAT supply chain security program as well as being a responsible stakeholder with an established record of piloting supply chain initiatives in the areas of trade facilitation and import food safety oversight.
In which governmental security programs you see the biggest benefit potential in the future, for supply chain communities and for governmental agencies – and why so?
Whether as the objective of a unique all-encompassing program or the end result of complimentary programs, the greatest opportunity before us is the establishment of a more holistic approach to regulatory oversight such that tangible benefits are realized by responsible stakeholders excelling in the areas of supply chain security, customs-trade compliance and product safety oversight. Presently there are discussions in the United States towards the creation of a wider trusted trader model that would see U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) bringing in those additional federal agencies that have a say in admissibility decisions to further facilitate the trade of legitimate goods and services.
Additionally there are sectorial initiatives underway which may provide the same net outcome. Take for example the pending Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP) as provided for under the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act. In the coming months the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will publish their proposed VQIP requirements which will establish a voluntary but fee based food import program such that imports of trusted foodstuffs through secure channels benefit from greater import processing predictability and therefor greater speed to market metrics. The details certainly need to be worked out but in theory one can see how American food importers participating in both the C-TPAT and VQIP programs ought to benefit from greater supply chain predictability with tangible benefits yielding greater competitive advantage based upon supply chain integrity management which would seem to be a win-win for industry, regulators and consumers who in the end are real folks we all ultimately report to.
Would you have any greetings for policy makers, enforcement agencies and supply chain companies here in Europe: how to learn best from the “US and Canadian good efforts & practices” – and how to avoid making costly mistakes in the future?
While stakeholders ought to act responsibly and they should pursue supply chain security, customs compliance and product safety oversight excellence out of common sense…we all know that in the real world bad actors do exist. Furthermore the blissfully ignorant also exist, those who may not realize that certain practices they have employed year after year are not only risky but may in fact be illegal. With this in mind I find it odd that some in the food industry find it offensive to hear the words food safety and source of competitive advantage mentioned in the same paragraph. Certainly I think we can all agree that regardless of anyone’s income and regardless of where they shop, a trip to the market should never end in a trip to the hospital but we also know that there is massive competitive advantage to be gained from non-compliance.
Consider for a moment food industry critic Eric Schlosser’s Op-ed in the New York Time from 2010 in which he observed that in the absence of tough food safety laws a perverse reality governs the market. Adulterated food is cheaper to produce than safe food and consumers often do not know and cannot tell the difference. As such those companies that do the right things are often left to compete with others who couldn’t care less. While this is true in the food sector it certainly is true the international trade of most goods….those companies that are compliant are often left to compete with folks who are not and regulators, be they customs administrations or health and safety officials, need to understand this so that compliance programs are crafted with an eye on turning compliance into a source of competitive advantage.
Furthermore, be it in supply chain security or elsewhere, programs ought to be established with a goal of creating internal dynamics that reinforce and support the system’s objective. C-TPAT is a good program and in creating benefits for importers to be in the program it forces other stakeholders, like to ocean carriers, into joining the program. The short coming in C-TPAT is that while ocean carriers are required to join the program as a condition of being able to carry cargo for specific and often large customers the carriers really get little other tangible benefit. After all you never hear ocean carriers ask importers if they are in C-TPAT and ocean carriers make zero effort to actually acquire more C-TPAT cargo. There are discussions taking place in Washington exploring concepts like expediting container ship birthing and discharge based upon meeting certain security metrics like carrying a certain minimum amount of C-TPAT or otherwise “trusted” cargo….the point being supply chain integrity management programs are most beneficial when stakeholders throughout the system have direct and tangible benefits in working towards achieving the highest degree of integrity for the supply chain as a whole.
Thanks a lot Mark – and see you soon on either side of the Atlantic - e.g. in Pennsylvania, Penn State, where I am joining & lecturing at a one week summer course in “Homeland Security Update II”, August 3-7, 2015, http://harrisburg.psu.edu/courses/homeland-security-update-research-and-trends