November 21, 2008

US FDA Opens its Office in China

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration opened its first overseas office on Wednesday in China, with others planned around the globe to control quality of food imported in to the country. David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for foods said, "We are currently importing about 15% of the food we eat in the United States, and it is increasing every year. It's much easier if we can build the collaboration at a local level rather than trying to do it from 8,000 miles away."

The office came after the food safety scare generated by Chinese food products which were stopped at the U.S. border and tested for melamine, a chemical added to baby formula earlier this year that sickened thousands of Chinese infants. According to a recent statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA's umbrella agency, the United States intends to help the Chinese government improve its regulatory systems for exports. The HHS statement said, "Establishing a permanent FDA presence in China will greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness of our regulatory cooperation and our efforts to protect consumers in both countries."

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said they planned to open offices later this week in the Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Shanghai with India, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe being subsequent locations. The Chinese offices would be manned by eight American employees, with expertise in food, medicine and medical devices. They will work with Chinese government agencies and producers to raise standards and guarantee quality before goods are bound for the United States.

The new enterprise is aimed at 200,000 food manufacturers from 150 countries that export to the USA. Last year, the United States imported about $856 million worth of drugs from China, and $4.4 billion worth of food. FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach said, "The American consumer wants to eat strawberries in February. We don't grow strawberries in the United States in February."

“Because the world has changed a great deal, what we eat, medicines we take and products we use in the United States come from other countries," Leavitt said at Wednesday's news conference in Beijing. "This year we will import nearly $2 trillion of goods. To give you a sense of proportion, that is roughly four times the entire economy of Brazil," he added.

Shao Mingli, commissioner of the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration said regulators in China and the U.S. face a "major challenge. Strengthening and developing cooperation is our only, common choice."

Jeffrey Schultz of the R&D-based Pharmaceutical Association Committee, an industry group said, "They are eight people and this is a huge industry." He added that China's food and drug administration "has the hardest job in China — they've got thousands of factories that they need to regulate."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang is quoted by The China Daily newspaper to have said, "We feel deep regret that the U.S. insists on unilaterally taking these steps. Such unilateral action smacks of protectionism."

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