Sending Inspectors to Other Nations
By Maureen Fan
On Wednesday, the FDA will open it first overseas office here in China, whose growing role as an exporter of food and drug products to the United States has combined with several recent food safety scares to prompt the change in strategy.
The agency will initially have at least eight American
employees, in addition to Chinese hires, in three offices in
Although officials said they were not targeting any one
country, many recent scandals have originated in
For years, Chinese-made counterfeit glycerin was added to
cough syrup in
Recently, melamine-tainted dairy products and animal feed from China have killed at least four Chinese infants and sickened thousands, prompting bans or recalls in 16 countries and last week's FDA directive that all Chinese foods made with milk be detained at U.S. ports unless importers certify them melamine-free.
"The global market has clearly changed the nature of our challenge in keeping products safe," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said at the Tuesday news conference after discussions with his Chinese counterparts, including health, food and drug, agriculture and quality inspection officials.
"In the past, we have been able to catch products coming through our borders and find those that are unsafe," he said. "However, the volume of those goods has become so robust that it requires a change in our strategy."
"While we acknowledge we cannot inspect everything,
we believe very strongly that we can, through independent certification,
assure that someone we trust is overseeing products that come into the
The aim is to work more closely with Chinese regulatory agencies to set quality standards and to educate companies and their distributors.
"We will be looking for them to take corporate responsibility for assuring quality is built in. We will also be sharing intelligence, as well as inspection data and information," FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach said at the news conference.
Experts welcomed the potential partnership but said it might prove largely symbolic.
"It's kind of like an ant standing against a
flood," said Kent D. Kedl, general manager of Technomic Asia in
Jiang Weibo, a professor at
"The FDA can never find all the potential poisons in Chinese-exported food products," Jiang said. "There are dozens of pesticides used. Each product might have more than a thousand different poisonous possibilities."
Jiang also said he doubts that the
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