FDA to step up checks on Chinese food

By Chris Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fda, Food safety

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to begin carrying out
checks on Chinese food products following approval from the State
Department.

FDA will create eight new positions at US diplomatic missions throughout China over the next 18 months, provided final approval comes from the authorities in Beijing. The staff, who will be based in the US Embassy in Beijing and the US Consulates General in Shanghai and Guangzhou, will work alongside Chinese experts in carrying out inspections of food production plants whose output is destined for the US market. Washington and Beijing agreed to work together to improve food safety in December 2007 with the signing of a memorandum of understanding that Mike Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said would "enhance the safety of scores of household items the American people consume on a daily basis"​. That memorandum - and a second one focused on drugs and medical devices - came after six months of formal talks between the US and China following a series of scares related to poor quality imports from the Chinese market. "The agreements satisfy our firm principle that any country that desires to produce goods for American consumers must do so in accordance with American standards of quality and safety,"​ said Leavitt in December. "All Chinese producers of items covered under the agreement must register with Chinese authorities, who will share that data with HHS. Chinese regulators will certify that food and feed covered by the agreement meet our standards… and to verify compliance, the Chinese are adopting quality-assurance methods every step of the way." ​ The memoranda also established a process of information sharing between FDA and its Chinese counterpart agencies, with Beijing pledging to provide timely notification to US regulators under a wide range of circumstances, including the failure of a facility to meet inspection requirements and the suspension or revocation of a manufacturer's certification status. Part of that information sharing agreement included granting greater access to Chinese production facilities for FDA inspectors. "In these days when a border is not a barrier, the globalized economy demands nothing less than heightened regulatory interoperability, information exchange, and cooperation, especially on product quality and enforcement matters,"​ said Murray M. Lumpkin, deputy commissioner for international and special programs at the FDA. The agreement with China is part of the FDA's Beyond our Borders initiative which "facilitates the building of stronger cooperative relationships with the FDA's counterpart agencies around the world and enhanced technical cooperation with foreign regulators".​ Beijing is keen to be seen to be taking its responsibilities seriously when it comes to tackling sub-standard production, especially as concerns with the safety of food products and ingredients coming out of China have resulted in many manufacturers and retailers looking elsewhere for their supplies. Indeed, allowing FDA inspectors to operate in China is a relatively innocuous decision compared to some of the more draconian measures the Chinese have employed to improve food safety. These include the execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the national State Food and Drug Administration, for accepting bribes to approve substandard medicines, and the imprisonment of Zheng Shangjin, former head of the food and drug bureau in Zhejiang province, for taking bribes and abuse of power. And changes have been made to thousands of food quality standards in order to meet the more stringent requirements of major importers such as the US and Europe. But despite the efforts of the Chinese to improve their image, there are still concerns that the FDA will allow sub-standard products into the US - although this is more about a lack of US funding than anything else. A report published in December last year by the Subcommittee on Science and Technology warned that FDA had failed to dedicate enough of its budget to "to develop the science base and infrastructure needed to efficiently support innovation in the food industry, provide effective routine surveillance, and conduct emergency outbreak investigation activities to protect food".

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