Security is an ever-present issue for the food industry, especially as consumers demand more insight into how their food is processed and where it is coming from. Interestingly enough, last year's survey of Food Manufacturing readers revealed that 90 percent were concerned about security issues in their plants, while this year's percentage dropped to 78. However, this can be viewed in a positive light, as perhaps plants have stepped up security to the point where they are more confident.
In our most recent survey, 95 percent of food manufacturers reported altering their plant's security methods since the events of September 11, 2001, which made America acutely aware of our vulnerability and stimulated action in terms of protecting our nation's food supply. Improvements are ongoing, however, as 55 percent of plants anticipate spending $50,000 or more on security in 2010.
An important discussion in food security involves the question of where responsibility lies. Should government agencies, such as the FDA or USDA, have more say in the matter or should individual plants be responsible for their own well being when it comes to security? The majority of plants (53.6 percent) feel plant security should be a joint effort shared between state and national government entities, as well as individual plants. In addition:
- 38.4 percent feel individual plants should carry the bulk of responsibility for food security.
- 9.3 percent feel responsibility should fall on government agencies, such as the FDA.
- 5.3 percent feel state governments should carry the bulk of responsibility for food security.
In accordance with these findings, 86 percent of plants have some form of on-site security director or coordinator, and 55 percent bring in third-party auditors for security evaluation/improvement.
In terms of the national government's role, the new Food Safety Modernization Act will create a Food Safety Administration. The Food Safety Administration will be charged, in part, with overseeing the prevention of intentional contamination of the U.S. food supply. 27 percent of respondents feel this action will effectively reduce food security risks, while 35 percent disagree. The remaining 38 percent report not being familiar with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Last December, it was widely reported that the USDA had classified several animal rights groups as "terrorist threats" on a security profile sent out to animal experimentation facilities. Surprisingly, an overwhelming 67 percent of surveyed food manufactures do not consider animal rights groups to be a threat to their plants' security. With 72 percent of plants performing thorough employee background checks, and a large number of plants taking security measures such as perimeter lighting, fences, keycard entry, and surveillance cameras, the food industry is taking security seriously.