Twenty Grand: IFLR Reaches Milestone, Sets Foundation for Online Education

MSU's Institute for Food Laws and Regulations looks back on 20 years of online food law education for industry professionals.

Number 20 with a globe inside the zero. Text reads Institute for Food Laws & Regulations Celebrating 20 years of lonine food law education 1998-2018.

While Google dips its collective toe in the water, Free Willy” star, Keiko, is taken to Iceland for eventual release back into the wild. 

France wins the World Cup on its home turf. The U.S. House of Representatives impeached President William Clinton. 

Perhaps a bit overlooked in the headline news of 1998 was the launch of an online certificate program at Michigan State University focused on worldwide knowledge of food laws and regulations. 

Dr. P. Vincent Hegarty, former chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, started the institute as part of his “retirement project.” Hegarty believed that MSU’s international reputation could play a leading role in bringing expertise from the developed world into emerging economies in a way that would advance the work of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which had been established three years earlier. 

“Prior to 1995, if my country wanted to keep your country’s food out, simple. Put a tariff or a quota on it,” Hegarty said. “What happened was your country retaliated. This whole world began to decide that this was not the way to do business. The WTO quickly became significant because now instead of tariffs and quotas, you have to see if the law was being respected.” 

At that time some major international and global foundations began to produce online courses in developing countries. 

“The concept was great on paper,” Hegarty said, “but it failed because they didn't localize the information. So, the second reason why we started the institute was that we could set in place very quickly international instructors from all around the world, who would then teach online, and who would bring the global information into their regions of the world.” 

With the help of Dr. David Jukes and his food safety and food law website at the University of Reading in England, MSU and its fledgling institute was able to offer a semester-long course in European food law taught by an expert (Jukes), who had many contacts in the European Union. 

From that single course, Hegarty and his successor, Neal Fortin, have fortified their online education program in many ways: 

  • Since 2002, IFLR has awarded more than 325 certificates in U.S. and international food laws; 
  • Currently 20 industry experts provide lectures in IFLR classes; 
  • Fifteen courses are offered in food laws and regulations, including specialized short courses the major rules of the Food Safety Modernization Act; 
  • More than 3,500 course enrollments to date from 100-plus countries, with an average of 125 students annually enrolled in fall and spring semesters; 
  • Food industry professionals in quality assurance, product development, labelling, and environmental compliance – to name a few – have taken IFLR courses. 

“The success of the program can be traced to a number of factors,” said Fortin, who was appointed IFLR director in 2006 after having served as manager of the food service regulation program for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. “First of all, much of the credit goes to Dr.  Hegarty for having the vision and fortitude to start the program and to envision a global initiative to educate the industry about food laws and regulations. 

“Our program offers food law courses taught online by an international network of food science, academic, and legal professionals, all of whom understand the complex nature of food laws and how they impact the flow of food and agricultural products across national boundaries.” 

IFLR’s curriculum includes courses in Codex Alimentarius (the World Food Code); Animal Health, World Trade and Food Safety; Beer, Wine and Spirits; FSMA Rules, and Regulatory Leadership, in addition to U.S., European, Canadian, Chinese, and Latin America food laws. 

New to the line-up is a Spanish section of the Latin America course. Both the English and Spanish sections employ the practical knowledge of a host of guest instructors with firsthand knowledge of food laws and regulations of the region.  This approach provides students an opportunity to delve into practical challenges and successes in this important area of the world with true experts. 

Curriculum specialist Kris DeAngelo spirited the effort to expand the program’s diversity. “The introduction of the new Spanish section to our ‘Food Laws and Regulations in Latin America and the Caribbean’ course is incredibly exciting.  No other program in the world offers this unique experience,” DeAngelo said. “This is a timely addition to IFLR and highlights the continuing evolution of the program to meet the needs of global food law students.  It truly is an exceptional learning opportunity.”  

All IFLR courses are fully accredited through Michigan State University. 

“In addition to the expertise we offer, the ease of enrollment and schedule flexibility are also very important,” said Fortin. “We require no prerequisite courses or degrees, nor do we require transcripts from prior study. No GRE scores and no application fee. 

“But at the same time, we recommend taking one course per semester if the student is employed full time.” 

Perhaps the benefits of the courses and the program is put best by a graduate.  Allena Myers, a senior regulatory specialist for Southeastern Mills in Rome, Georgia, received her master’s degree in Global Food Law in May 2018. “I am able to apply the knowledge gained in the courses directly to my thought process and tasks at work,” Myers said. “Previous to my position in regulatory affairs, 
I worked in quality assurance and food safety at the manufacturing level for about 10 years. 

“I knew of good manufacturing requirements and other FDA regulations, but not the reasoning behind them. These courses have helped me fill those gaps of understanding and polish my skills to become a valuable asset to the food industry.” 

With four times his program’s years of experience, Hegarty shows no signs of slowing down as he quickly approaches octogenarian status. He begins teaching a new course – Global Regulation of Food Contact Substances/Packaging – in the 2019 Spring semester. 

“Lack of a unified food classification system has always been a heavy burden on the food control authorities around the world,” Hegarty said. “As such, regulation of food contact materials has become increasingly important in a global food supply. Emerging markets should have a food contact materials (FCM) regulatory system that meets international standards.”  

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