WASHINGTON -- As director of scientific and regulatory policy for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Monica Gonzalez will earn a lot of frequent-flier miles. At GMA, Gonzalez serves as the secretariat of the International Council of Grocery Manufacturing Associations, an international nonprofit that represents the interests of the food and beverage industry in international forums such as Codex Alimentarius and the World Health Organization. In that role, she will travel extensively. Gonzalez recently returned from the Codex Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean meeting in Argentina. There, she heard from companies that object to product-traceability requirements that would go beyond "one step forward, one step back." Latin American companies view more extensive recordkeeping as a barrier to trade. Also on her agenda this year: an international meeting on food additives and contaminants at The Hague in April, then on to Malaysia for a meeting on food labeling, then to Rome for the Codex committee meeting. Gonzalez, who joined GMA in November, came directly from McCormick & Co., where she served as regulatory manager of the snack food and global restaurant divisions. Previously, she provided scientific and regulatory support for The Minute Maid Co. She has bachelor's and master's degrees in food science and technology from Texas A M University. Spanish is her mother tongue -- Gonzalez grew up in Monterrey, Mexico. She also speaks French conversationally, and is taking classes in Portuguese. At GMA, she reports to Mark Nelson, vice president of scientific and regulatory policy.
SN: What are your top priorities at GMA?
MG: Everything related to food safety. Any food additives and chemicals added to foods, as well as those coming into the packaging. It's mainly food additives and contaminants. Also, one of the most important roles will be my ICGMA role, the importance of international markets. Everyone is shipping product everywhere. A lot of companies are multinational. With ICGMA we represent their international entities. It's important these products meet the Codex standards. You have the opportunity to voice opinions. I see GMA participating by providing the position of the food industry. We don't want our member companies' products squeezed out of the global market. That's why Codex plays an important role. We try to have companies participate as well. It's important to participate in international bodies. It provides opportunities for further growth of products. Because ICGMA is an association of several trade associations around the world, it's representing the food industry worldwide.
SN: How has the regulatory environment for food manufacturers changed over the years? MG: Based on my experience, it's changed a lot. Now there's so much focus on health and nutrition. GMA is participating actively. The regulatory bodies, and regulations we have, reflect that. More health and nutrition orientation. McDonald's and Wendy's have all these salads. Now you can get a salad with your hamburgers. All these restaurant companies are focusing on health and nutrition and international exposure. The global market is increasing. More and more countries are shipping products and opening subsidiaries in other countries. Health and nutrition is an issue around the world. Sometimes regulations that apply to the U.S. don't apply to other countries. I've noticed that since I started at Minute Maid, even at McCormick, the focus on certain issues, toward the end, companies were developing products that were healthier.
SN: Concerns about traceability have really stepped up in recent years. How important are traceability initiatives to GMA's members?
MG: It's of great importance but most of GMA's [more than 140] members are already applying some sort of traceability to food safety [in response to the Bioterrorism Act]. Most GMA members have already in place something similar to "one step forward, one step back." You keep a record, you provide records of where your product is from, where and how it was manufactured, to the customer buying it. One step back, you should have documents of where you bought it.
SN: How did your previous experience at McCormick and Minute Maid prepare you for your post at GMA?
MG: I have a master's in food science. I was able to apply that at McCormick and Minute Maid. I have a technical background and exposure to retail. Here at GMA, what I bring or learned is to have a sense of what companies need and how to better help them. Because of my background, especially with Minute Maid, it fits right in with my responsibilities at GMA, especially the food-safety issues.
SN: What's a typical day on the job like?
MG: It's very different each day. There are more than 140 companies [on GMA's member roster.] The issues you may encounter will be different. The information you need to provide one day will be completely different the next. It's changing and very dynamic and that's what makes it interesting as well. It's been a very good experience so far.