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Safety of Food Imports Subject of New US-China Agreement

Aug 6, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

The United States and China have reached an agreement on food safety that is intended to prevent dangerous imported food from reaching the US.  The agreement comes on the heels of a visit to China by a delegation from the US Department of Health and Human Services. While details of the agreement where not released, it is seen as an important first step in improving the quality of Chinese imports to the US.

Last Tuesday, a delegation headed by Health and Human Services official Rich McKeown met with Chinese officials from the country’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine to discuss recent problems with China’s imports of food, drugs and medical devices. The visit was preceded by a strongly-worded statement by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, who said that US regulatory agencies were concerned that China lacked a sufficient infrastructure to ensure product safety.  

China’s state-run Xinhau news agency announced yesterday that Beijing and Washington had formulated the initial framework of a food safety agreement on Saturday.  China said that it is willing to strengthen its cooperation with the U.S. to resolve food safety issues.   A more detailed draft will be worked out when the two countries meet again.

China has been the point of origin for a number of food recalls in the past few months.  Earlier this year, several pets in the US died after eating food that contained an ingredient from China that was laced with a poisonous chemical.  Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers in several states not to eat fresh ginger from China because it could be contaminated with a dangerous pesticide.    In July, the FDA announced that it would be cracking down on imports of Chinese seafood because of concerns that it might contain chemicals banned in the US.   The FDA banned imports of farm-raised catfish, shrimp and other seafood unless their suppliers could prove that they were free of contamination. That move started a trade war of sorts, with the Chinese retaliating by rejecting some products from the US.

The announcement of the agreement is welcome news, especially since the Chinese seemed at first reluctant to admit a problem with imports.  But in the past few weeks, the government in China has made a very public effort to crack down on product safety, mostly by shutting down the unregulated factories that have been the source of tainted imports.  China’s fast growing economy is dependent on exports, with food exports to the US alone generating the country $2.26 billion dollars each year.

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