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Exclusive Interview with Kevin Kenny of Decernis

Smithers: What do you consider to be the biggest international challenge within the food industry, when it comes to regulatory compliance?

Kevin Kenny: The combination of rapid regulatory change and language difficulties is always the single biggest challenge. With the speed of change increasing fast, also due to increased consumer knowledge and concerns, this is leading to an increased risk for non-compliant products and delayed market access.  Fortunately, some global and regional harmonization has helped tremendously.  Whereas in the past, a compliance specialist often had to understand many different legal regimes across multiple languages, today that same specialist often can learn one set of rules for a region in one language. And once a product is introduced into a common market, usually proof of compliance in other member jurisdictions is greatly simplified by mutual recognition. 

Smithers: What role has Mercosur played in the last years when it comes to importing and exporting ingredients and processed food in US? Can you share with us an example?    

Kevin Kenny: Over 25 years Mercosur has grown dramatically in importance within Latin America – it now boasts six member countries, six associate members and two observers, and its members alone make up 84% of South America’s GDP.   The US has historically been a key trade partner for most Mercosur countries close to 100 years, but the tide has been shifting.  China and the EU are deepening trade relationships at the cost of US market share.

Furthermore, Mercosur exports to the US of agricultural products continues to grow rapidly, including coffee, essential oils, fresh fruit, fruit and vegetable juices, raw sugar, tobacco and wines.  For importers into the US, a critical “gotcha” which has caused substantial pain for US processors is where certain pesticides, such as Carbendazim, are approved for use on fruit (oranges) in e.g., Brazil but have no permissible residue limit for that fruit in the US.  Import Alert 99-08 contains a Red List, updated regularly, which provides some indication of which pesticide residues have caused problems in the past.

For exporters to Mercosur, pain points tend to be in the registration, documentation and uncertain customs systems.   Imports may be slowed by days or even weeks by sometimes long and difficult certification procedures, resulting in a significant economic impact.  For example, delays in "certificates of free circulation", required for releasing products in the domestic market, have caused blocked containers, no new orders from importers, etc.   

Smithers: What are the hot topics in regards to regulations in South America? How do we get access to new regulatory developments in South America, for the food industry?

Kevin Kenny: The number one trend in the past decade has been the march toward harmonization – Codex, Mercosur, SIECA (Central America) and CARICOM have created harmonized regulations and easier compliance in the food and beverage space.  Unfortunately, many countries still have critical food safety requirements buried in copyrighted standards which must be purchased individually.  To date Decernis has purchased over 450 food-related standards across 23 countries in Latin America – and changes in standards are easier to miss than regulations.

Smaller countries tend not to have specific national regulations, meaning it is important to contact them and ask in writing whether they will accept products compliant with e.g. Codex, EU or the US requirements.   Not knowing can be dangerous to your brand.

Decernis has developed a mosaic approach to compliance in Latin America while increasing speed to market  – we have full-time researchers covering Latin America, are members of key food and beverage associations, have built cooperations wherever possible with governments and universities, and our Horizon Scanning service uses a discovery engine to constantly monitor regulatory change across multiple languages and sources, checking all known regulatory-related websites – and still it is possible to miss something, particularly in smaller countries.

Smithers: What are you most looking forward to at Food Contact & Additives 2017?

Kevin Kenny: I look forward to the mixing of the food (additive) side of with food contact professionals – I know of no other event that brings these two groups together.  There are very few experts who have experience on both sides of that equation, thus it presents a great opportunity to be exposed to another facet of the safety of food than your daily work.