FDA announced Tuesday that the agreement with General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine of China (AQSIQ) to enhance cooperation, first concluded in 2007, will be extended for an additional five years.
The agreement includes:
- Enhancement of FDA’s ability to identify high-risk food products entering the United States from China
- Collaboration to facilitate inspections of facilities that process and produce food
- A focus on high-risk foods frequently exported from China to the United States, including canned and acidified foods, pet food and aquaculture
- The creation of processes for FDA to accept relevant, verified information from AQSIQ regarding registration and certification
Progress since 2008
After conclusion of the first agreement, FDA opened offices in China in late 2008 in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. According to the agency, these offices have strengthened FDA’s relationship with Chinese authorities and have greatly enhanced the agency’s ability to inspect food facilities in the country.
The need for greater cooperation between the two countries only increases as China exports more food products to the US and Chinese companies’ presence ramps up at US trade shows and more North American buyers make the trip to China to make business contacts.
“I've come across many Chinese companies at China based expos that do their best to pass themselves off as the manufacturer,” Jeff Crowther, executive director of the US-China Health Products Association told NutraIngredients-USA.
“You really have to do your homework in these cases because some trading companies typically do not have the appropriate certifications in place to satisfy FDA standards for safety. Since these trading companies in some cases are storing or holding the materials, its anyone's guess as to what conditions they are being held under and/or if any accidental or deliberate adulteration has occurred while under their care,” he said.
FDA laid out five areas in which it said significant progress has been made in the five years since the first agreement was signed. These include:
- Increased inspections of Chinese food facilities. These increased from no inspections in 2007 to 85 in 2011.
- Better cooperation on high-risk foods. These food categories include low-acid canned foods and farm-raised fish. The heighted attention has resulted in more stringent oversight of canneries shipping products to the US, and identification of ways to address the problem of the use of unsafe drugs in growing ponds.
- Enhanced collaboration with Chinese food-safety authorities. Having the offices in China has helped FDA better understand that country’s food safety system and to develop relationships with key personnel. It also allows the agency to conduct ongoing joint workshops with Chinese regulators.
- More confidence in the quality of Chinese lab work. After the melamine debacle, the agency worked directly with AQSIQ to better understand and gain confidence in in China’s laboratory system for testing food.
- Outreach on the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Since enactment of FSMA in 2011, FDA has worked with AQSIQ to conduct multiple outreach events for Chinese food safety officials and regulated industry.
Helping to enact FSMA
This last is of particular importance as some of the new requirements under FSMA have already taken effect and others are being delineated via a formal rule making which is now under way. China’s vast number of smaller companies make it a challenging regulatory environment, Crowther said.
“Under FSMA the burden lies with the US importer to verify that their foreign suppliers have adequate preventive controls in place to ensure safety. This is an important aspect of the regulation as many U.S. importers may in fact be buying from Chinese trading companies and not the actual manufacturer. As a buyer, it is sometimes a challenge to figure out if the China vendor you've found at an expo is the actual manufacturer or a trading company,” he said.
“When dealing with larger manufacturers in China, their certifications and paper work should be in order to satisfy FMSA. However, my concern would be with the smaller suppliers and trading companies. This is China's weak spot and will certainly cause US importers to work harder to ensure they are in fact working with a reputable partner that can provide them sufficient documentation to prove it.”