US and China hail food safety progress

Officials from the US and China have hailed progress in implementing their memorandum of agreement on food and feed safety, signed by both countries in December last year as part of a bid to enhance the safety of products traded between the two countries.

US Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt signed a joint progress statement on 18 June with Li Changjiang, the Chinese minister of the general administration of quality supervision, inspection and quarantine, which outlined steps taken by both nations in relation to the memorandum.

The statement said the agreement had led to:

  • establishment of a mechanism for co-operation on significant events related to food and feed safety
  • development of steps to lead to a system whereby China would electronically certify that specific products sent for export to the US met US Food and Drug Administration safety standards
  • a focus on inspections and laboratory testing standards to ensure food and feed safety, with the US agreeing to conduct training for Chinese officials on US regulatory standards and requirements
  • creation of a mechanism to notify each other of significant risks to public health related to product safety or deception of consumers, and to share information to facilitate each other's investigation.

"Today's progress report reflects strong and sustained co-operation by both nations to strengthen the safety of food products exported to the United States from China," said Leavitt. "I'm very pleased with our efforts and commend our Chinese counterparts for their commitment to this important work."

Last week's statement came in the wake of a string of incidents that have shaken confidence in products from China.

Scares involving products such as toothpaste and pet food have even prompted some US retailers to stop selling certain Chinese products.

More recently, a consignment of heparin, the blood thinning drug, from China was discovered to have been contaminated with over-sulphated dermatan chondroitin. The tainted drug has been blamed for as many as 81 deaths in America.

Officials in both countries are stepping up efforts to tighten safety controls. The Chinese government recently published a draft food safety regulation as part of moves to get tough on food companies supplying unsafe products. The law covers monitoring of food safety, recalls and the issuing of information. Punishments for breaking the rules include fines, revocation of production certificates and prison terms ranging from three years to life.

And the US FDA is understood to be planning a network of offices in China in an effort to improve safety controls on Chinese products exported to America.

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