The WSJ and NPR reported today that FDA officials are requesting Beijing’s help in implementing a new food-safety law requiring stricter oversight of exported food. The request for cooperation comes as the U.S. looks to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a law passed in January requiring food importers to verify the safety of their food from suppliers. The fear of Chinese exports and the need for heightened scrutiny of all exports is well known (read my post from April on China and FSMA’s impact). What is less well known is what rules will be created under FSMA to monitor exports, how the FDA with a limited budget will enforce it, and perhaps the biggest unknown – whether China can make its food safe.
NPR reports that one means of enforcement will be increased audits. Before FSMA the FDA was auditing 600 foreign facilities, roughly 2% of foreign facilities importing into the US. FSMA requires that number to swell. The mandate is to inspect 9,600 foreign food facilities by 2015 a jump that may not be possible with the current Congress’s battle over the Federal budget.
The WSJ stated U.S. officials at the beginning of next year will seek China’s suggestions on how to implement the law’s requirements. This includes a system to accredit private-sector inspectors and to create a documentation system for suppliers. This is actually not one program but four. They include: foreign supplier verification, voluntary qualified importer program, FDA authority to require import certifications for food, as well as the accreditation of third party auditors. All of these programs will take time to develop.
This space in time is worry for some consumers. Food safety remains a major issue in China, even three years after a scandal in which milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine caused the deaths of at least six children and illnesses in 300,000 others. Recent crackdowns have unveiled a spate of problems involving food producers using chemical additives to alter food for economic gain.
The WSJ reports that China currently lacks enforcement of its food-safety laws and has an insufficient number of inspectors, said Li Tairan, a director of food safety at the Ministry of Health’s Bureau of Food Safety Integrated Coordination and Health Supervision, at a food-safety conference Wednesday.
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