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Wal-Mart Requiring Suppliers to Meet Global Food Safety Initiative Standards

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. here said yesterday it has become the first nationwide U.S. grocery chain to require suppliers of its private label and other food products such as produce, meat, fish, poultry, and ready-to-eat foods to have their factories certified against one of the internationally recognized Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards.

GFSI, which Wal-Mart called "a higher and consistent auditing standard," is used by a group of major international retailers and is backed by CIES, the Food Business Forum.

GFSI standards provide real-time details on where suppliers fall short in food safety on a plant-by-plant basis, and go beyond the current FDA or USDA required audit process, according to Wal-Mart. Under the GFSI program, producers of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club private label and other foods sold in the United States must be audited by independently trained, approved, and licensed auditors who are experts in their industry.

"The requirement for suppliers to complete these certifications demonstrates our leadership in food safety and our commitment to global safety standards," said J.P. Suarez, Wal-Mart's s.v.p. and chief compliance officer, and a board member of the Global Food Safety Initiative, in a statement. "Food safety has always been a top priority at Wal-Mart. We are taking this additional step to ensure the integrity of our products throughout the entire food supply chain. We encourage other U.S. retailers to follow our lead and to also endorse these standards."

The GFSI requires food suppliers to achieve factory audit certification against one of its recognized standards, which include Safe Quality Food (SQF), British Retail Consortium (BRC), International Food Standard (IFS), or an equivalent such as Global-GAP. Wal-Mart has published a schedule to suppliers requiring completion of initial certification between July and December of 2008, with full certification required by July 2009. Audits will be completed by approved third-party auditing companies.

Wal-Mart private label food brands in the United States are Great Value and Sam's Choice. Sam's Club private label food brands in this country include Member's Mark and Bakers & Chefs.

Internationally, Wal-Mart stores in the United Kingdom (ASDA) and Japan (Seiyu) also require suppliers of food products to comply with GFSI standards.

In the United States, at least one other supermarket chain has already taken steps to go above and beyond government-issued food safety standards. Last year Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper told Progressive Grocer it would begin requiring its fresh produce and private label suppliers to comply with SQF ("Safe Quality Food") standards by Jan. 1, 2008. SQF is a global food-safety training, audit, and certification program based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. The program, which independently audits suppliers, has issued more than 9,000 certificates to suppliers in 20 countries. It is led by the Food Marketing Institute in Arlington, Va.
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