In response to a downpour of lead-laced toys, contaminated food and counterfeit drugs that have been exported to the US in recent years, the FDA is deploying staff overseas. The FDA staff will work with foreign regulatory agencies, importers and whoever else they can find.
This week in fact, the FDA opened a foreign bureau in China, the country that exported tainted pet food to the US killing thousands of dogs and cats, and couldn’t prevent melamine-laced milk from sickening 54,000 of its own children.
The FDA’s China bureau will have 8 US employees and a Chinese staff. Its job is to certify inspections of Chinese exports headed for the US. The bureau will subcontract the work to private and commercial labs and liaise with several Chinese government agencies, where it hopes to establish quality standards.
Which raises the question, how does the FDA plan to assure that all items in a $320 billion stream of products are safe and fit for use?
Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt seemed realistic when he told the Washington Post, “we…cannot inspect everything (but) we believe very strongly that we can, through independent certification, assure that someone we trust is overseeing products that come into the United States.”
But Jiang Weibo is circumspect. The professor at China Agriculture University’s School of Food Sciences told the Post, “The FDA can never find all the potential poisons in Chinese-exported food products. There are dozens of pesticides used. Each product might have more than a thousand different poisonous possibilities.”