When it comes to the business of food, Latin American and Caribbean countries are playing by two sets of rules, according food professionals speaking here at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo in Chicago. Some export higher quality products to countries like the United States and to Europe while selling lower quality products to their domestic populations.
"The challenge is how to reduce the gap between exported and domestic products," says Jairo Romero, director of the food safety program at the Colombian Association of Food Science and Technology.
Chile, for instance, has such high export standards that its meat and dairy products gained access to six new countries last year, and 19 more countries began accepting its fruits and vegetables. Yet its domestic products are not subject to the same quality controls, Romero says.
"It's just a small percentage of (domestic) companies that are exporting. So the rest of the companies tend to the national or domestic market, and they don't follow the same good agricultural practices," Romero adds.
But while countries such as the United States insist that Latin America improve its standards, some say American authorities should take a closer look at their own quality controls.
Gustavo Barbosa-Canovas, professor of food engineering at Washington State University, says this country is sometimes hailed as having an ideal quality control system. But its system is so under-staffed and under-funded as to render it virtually ineffective in some instances, he says.
"(U.S. regulatory agencies) are under-manned," says Barbosa-Canovas. "We need additional funding and infrastructure to keep the population safe."
In Washington, Barbosa-Canovas says he can obtain cheese from around the world, some of which is not in compliance with American food standards.
"I want to make sure we don't differentiate the U.S. as the perfect system, and Latin America as needing improvement," Barbosa-Canovas adds.
The IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo is the world's largest annual scientific forum and exposition on food. Ranked among the largest U.S. conventions, the meeting delivers comprehensive, cutting-edge research and opinion from food science-, technology-, marketing- and business-leaders.
Having concluded its 67th annual session on Tuesday, the IFT Annual Meeting now directs its attention toward today's IFT Global Food Safety & Quality conference, and the IFT Food Nanoscience conference.
Founded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, IFT is a not-for-profit international scientific society with 22,000 members working in food science, technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues. For more on IFT, see IFT.org.