FDA Detaining Chinese Dairy ImportsNov 14, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
According to a Washington Post article, federal food safety officials are stepping up measures to keep melamine out of the American food system. Yesterday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began “holding up shipments of food from China that contain milk or milk-derived ingredients,” said the Washington Post.
The FDA, on its Website reports that: “As part of its ongoing strategy to address the present problem with melamine contamination of consumer products exported from the People’s Republic of China, FDA has expanded its import controls on Chinese dairy products, and food and feed products manufactured in China that contain dairy ingredients. Since Oct. 10, 2008, FDA has had an import alert in place for specific products found contaminated with melamine and melamine-related compounds. FDA has collected additional information on the scope of the melamine contamination problem in China, and determined a countrywide import alert is warranted.” Many see this as the FDA’s largest effort since news of the current China melamine scandal broke, said the Washington Post.
It is expected foods made with milk and milk powders, such as those which have been involved in global recalls, such as candies and cookies will be involved in the new investigation, the Washington Post notes. Melamine has been found in a wide array of milk- and milk product-derived foods internationally, causing global concerns over the safety of products and foods originating from China that also include coffee and tea milks, yogurts, milk drinks, and cheeses.
Melamine is an industrial chemical used in the production of plastics, pesticides and fertilizers, and fire retardants. A nitrogen-rich chemical, melamine is used in food production to raise low protein levels in order to fool protein testing. Melamine can cause a variety of kidney problems including kidney stones and kidney failure. And, this is not the first time melamine tainting has been attributed to China. Last year, melamine-tainted pet food sickened thousands and killed hundreds of pets in North America, prompting pet food recalls and adding to a trade situation in which Americans were concerned about tainted foods, toothpaste, medications, and toys.
The Washington Post noted that the FDA “is requiring importers of the halted shipments to test for” melamine and quotes Steve Solomon, the FDA’s deputy associate commissioner for compliance and policy as pointing out that, “if an importer can prove his product is not tainted, FDA will release it.” The Washington Post and the FDA Website both note that the FDA will be expanding melamine testing on “a range of protein-containing products” (FDA).
FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt will be meeting with food safety officials in China next week, said the Washington Post. The FDA has also long been announcing that it will be opening three branches in China; however, many feel that the FDA has taken too long to act, most notably, Representative Rosa DeLauro (Democrat-Connecticut), said the Post. Ms. DeLauro who “chairs the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the FDA,” was quoted in the Post article as saying that, "Clearly, the problems involving melamine in China are significantly deeper than FDA would have us believe."