1. Could you share a little bit of your career path and how has your experience been working at NSF?
My career path has taken me around the globe, including Northern Africa, Europe, Asia Pacific, and the United States. I started as a business consultant with Arthur Andersen then spent 14 years at Shell in several senior leadership positions. Before joining NSF, I was the senior vice president and general manager of the Industrial Digital Group at Ecolab.
I’ve been with NSF for just over 100 days now, and I’ve spent most of that time learning and engaging with team members and clients around the world. NSF aims to protect and improve human and planet health on a global scale, and I have witnessed an incredible amount of passion in our team members to deliver on this mission. I believe NSF’s best-kept secret is our client base. I’m amazed at the number of leading companies and brands we support, including some of the world’s most forward-looking organizations.
2. Tell us a little about the services offered by NSF and how it has evolved through its many years of experience
NSF was created nearly 80 years ago to standardize sanitation and food safety at a time when sanitation standards didn’t exist. From that foundation, we evolved into a global independent organization committed to protecting and improving human and planet health on a global scale, with nearly 60 locations and operations in 180 countries.
NSF promotes safe food and clean drinking water, supports the life sciences industry and protects consumers and the environment. Our professional staff of engineers, microbiologists, toxicologists, chemists and public health experts provides services globally across all major sectors. Our ISO/IEC 17025-accredited, state-of-the-art global laboratories provide a wide range of testing, certification and technical services as well as human health risk assessments. Our consulting, training and technical services help companies meet the growing needs of regulators, industries and customers in each sector where NSF offers services.
Within the food industry, we provide expertise, training and accredited services throughout the entire supply chain, from farm to fork.
3. What new projects is NSF currently working on?
One of our major areas of focus is to support our clients on their sustainability and ESG journeys. Within the auditing and certification space, we have established programs for sustainability in agriculture such as LEAF Marque (Linking Environment and Farming), the Sustainability Standard, animal welfare and SMETA.
Our consultants work with the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) industry, from primary production to value-add processing to final product manufacturing and beyond. Our key services cover climate, sustainability strategy and reporting, and supply chain assurance.
For producers, we offer climate risk assessments, greenhouse gas emission calculations and reduction strategies, and consulting on water use optimization in processing and post-harvest handling and packaging operations. Our expertise also covers labor and climate emissions and practices, as buyers are increasingly asking suppliers for this information with major sustainability regulatory reporting requirements now being mandated by stock exchanges and governmental agencies in some countries. Additionally, retailers are increasingly interested in demonstrating sustainable practices from their suppliers, including environmental and social responsibility. NSF works globally in the entire agriculture supply chain, so we are constantly monitoring the needs in different markets to adapt offerings to each geography.
4. How important do you consider third-party certification to be for consumer confidence?
As consumer motivations continue to evolve, we are noticing an increasing demand for healthy food, greater transparency and sustainability in food and its packaging. Third-party certification brings credibility to our clients, enabling them to reinforce their values. Recent studies by Nielsen on the Conscious Consumer Spending Index found that about 73% of consumers want to change their consumption habits to reduce environmental impact. Label claim certifications for products such as organic, plant-based, vegan and non-GMO help brands connect with these conscious consumers.
Certification also builds trust through transparency by verifying ingredients and sourcing. A study we conducted in 2019 found that 85% of consumers trusted product claims certified by third-party organizations such as NSF. Ultimately, certification gives brands a competitive advantage as consumer behavior favors brands that can demonstrate their values align.
5. Could you share with us some projects NSF is working on food safety?
NSF is constantly evolving with the changes in requirements in food safety. Our training offerings, for example, cover changes in standards and tools to help the industry stay updated, constantly improve food safety programs, and face emerging food safety challenges. As we touched on before, some of our consulting services in sustainability are also related to food safety as companies strive to improve their cleaning methods and save water.
6. What importance do you consider the agriculture industry to be worldwide?
The agriculture industry plays a key role in the global supply chain, and recent events such as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have only underscored this. A resilient agricultural eco-system in Mexico and Latin America is not only critical to feed a growing local population, but to continue to supply North America, China and other parts of the world. NSF is committed to partnering with the agriculture industry to help provide fresh, healthy, and sustainable food for all.
7. How do you think the requirements for compliance with food safety certifications have evolved over the past ten years?
The GFSI benchmarking process has expanded the standards to include more requirements for food safety management, including allergen control, food fraud, environmental control and other emerging concerns in the food industry. In agriculture, the benchmarked standards differ from the processing industry with varied thoroughness in the different requirements. Still, there has been a definite evolution of more robust food safety management systems and food safety cultures. Recently, the FDA Produce Safety Rule has influenced the content of the standards, reinforcing the need for strong preventive measures in farms and handling facilities. There have also been some emerging pathogens that have challenged the produce industry. Unfortunately, outbreaks and recalls are still common in the produce industry. Companies must have a strong food safety culture, continuous improvement, and educational programs to continue offering safer products and protect their brands and customers.
8. How do you integrate new technologies such as blockchain and analytics into your services and what benefits do you think they have for agricultural companies?
For clients that require control of many suppliers and with large auditing or certification programs, we offer advanced analytics to help them track the performance of their suppliers. We also offer a cloud quality and compliance solution called TraQtion that empowers clients to digitally manage suppliers, track ingredient attributes and trace product quality from source to store — helping them to deliver safer, sustainable, high-quality products faster. This is especially useful for large food retailers and organizations with complex supply chains. By digitizing supply chain and quality management, we also help our clients improve their ability to proactively address supply chain risks such as the disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine.
9. How do you envision the agricultural sector in the coming years and what do you think will be the main trends?
Sustainability, as mentioned previously, will continue to be a main trend, with growing regulatory and stock exchange pressure on companies throughout the sector to report on holistic, sustainable practices. For example, the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting directive impacts 11,700 companies across the EU. Companies also realize that this initiative to require sustainability practices improves their bottom line.
In agriculture, this includes practices such as protection of biodiversity, protection of pollinators, water use and soil conservation practices. These practices are always more effective when resources are managed correctly, which helps to reduce costs and improve yields.
Climate change and water scarcity – which are intimately related – will continue to put pressure on this sector. The good news is that there are smart practices that the industry can adopt today to mitigate those challenges and be part of the solution. For example, conservation agriculture, also known as regenerative agriculture, helps to sequester carbon in the soil, contributing to reversing climate change and improving soil health, allowing better yields and water retention. Such practices need to expand to ensure we can continue to feed a growing population in the future.
Labor will continue to be a big challenge in many countries, and technology will evolve to automate many farm activities. At the same time, employers will need to demonstrate best labor practices to be able to attract and retain labor and meet the expectations of the regulators and society to drive best labor practices in agriculture.