U.S. and China Reach Deal to Safeguard Food Imports

Discussion
Dec 13, 2007

By George Anderson

China has signed agreements that promise to safeguard exports from that country including allowing American officials onsite access to Chinese factories so they may inspect food and ingredients destined for the U.S. market.

Michael Leavitt, secretary of health and human services, said that he expects Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials will someday work in China to train officials there and record inspections.

In the meantime, factories in China looking to export to the U.S. will now be required to register with the government there. The Chinese will issue certificates for registered companies stating that goods exported meet the standards set by the FDA.

In a statement, Mr. Leavitt said, “The agreements satisfy our firm principle that any country that desires to produce goods for American consumers must do so in accordance with American standards of quality and safety.”

Andrew von Eschenbach, FDA commissioner, said that officials from the agency have been allowed to inspect Chinese plants on a limited basis in the past.

“This agreement will provide an opportunity to have our people here on a continuous basis with expertise so that we can work with our Chinese colleagues in helping to develop good practices,” Dr. von Eschenbach told The New York Times.

Discussion Questions: How successful do you expect the new agreements between China and U.S. to be in assuring a safer supply of food and ingredients to the American market? How long do you think it will it take before results begin to be seen?

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11 Comments on "U.S. and China Reach Deal to Safeguard Food Imports"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Food recalls will continue. Not just Chinese imports. Domestic suppliers make mistakes, too. The second largest beef recall in US history was from Topps, a Newark supplier. Federal inspection programs won’t stop recalls, although they might improve safety. The Topps recall was triggered by the New York State Health Department, not the federal or New Jersey or Newark governments. Why would we expect Chinese food safety to exceed our own?

Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

They’ll be about as successful as the current trade agreements banning the use of lead paint in toys. Given the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China, it’s functionally impossible to inspect anywhere near a high enough percentage of goods to guarantee product safety. And, as Mark points out, we’re not even all that good at guaranteeing that domestic product isn’t contaminated.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
14 years 5 months ago

In theory, this is a step in the right direction. In practice, at best this is window dressing. The production facilities in China are located behind gates with guards at the entrance. Surprise inspections by US inspectors are almost impossible. If the factories want to hide certain practices, they will be able to do so, as they have done in the past.

The problem is bigger than creating new standards. First, the US retailers have to stop asking US companies for lower prices (watch for falling prices), which force the US companies to look for less expensive sources for their products. When the retailers stop asking, the manufacturers will stop pressuring their suppliers to look for less expensive ways to produce. And this will allow for better, and more expensive ingredients and components to be used.

It isn’t that the Chinese manufacturer always wants to use the cheapest ingredients, without regard for safety. They are being forced into this situation, and we are all at fault.

Anne Howe
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Food safety remains the number one issue to focus on for 2008 according to the GMA/FPA survey published this morning in their SmartBrief. I agree that cost pressures are partly fueling the problem. Perhaps it is time for our industry to talk frankly with consumers about the rising cost of safety. Could we ask manufacturers and retailers for a focus on transparent information on our food. For those of us willing to pay more for safer products, the information we need is truly hard to find.

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
14 years 5 months ago

We all know this is Wal-Mart’s fault. Only kidding–a little. It really has to do with the rise of greed in corporate America, so I agree it’s our fault. It’s a vicious cycle; Retailers want Manufacturers to cut prices (because SOMEBODY is the low cost leader–now who would that be…), so they cut prices and need to reduce costs. So Manufacturers close their US plants and have the goods made off-shore for cheap labor and do they really care how they are made as long as their profits increase? Not until they get caught!

It was only a matter of time before we discovered that cheap goods are made with few guidelines and therefore may be harmful to our health, and more importantly, children’s health. It’s nice that the FDA wants to step in and help in China–so Manufacturers will just go to Korea, and when that fails Japan, and when that fails….

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
14 years 5 months ago

After reading today’s questions, I sent my food soul into the afterworld–as well as visiting China’s and our own U.S. food plants–for some aspect of future food safety to predict. My soul came back and said to me, “We ourselves are both Heaven and Hell.” From those visits I concluded that assuring food safety for the American market will continue to remain an expedient thing.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

Having U.S. representatives in Chinese factories is an important step. However, it does not just have to be FDA representatives. The companies, themselves, also have responsibility for what is produced on their behalf under their name.

Quality control has not been part of standard business practices in China. Quality control for absent foreign company leadership is a disaster waiting to happen. Sending U.S. FDA reps is an expensive and not necessarily appropriate step unless the U.S. is ready to send FDA reps to every country where there is a problem.

A better solution might be to have standards established, have companies take responsibility for products manufactured on their behalf by establishing testing programs to determine adherence to standards in every industry (not just food), and then have testing as products come into the U.S. by the FDA.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
14 years 5 months ago

This agreement will do nothing. The Chinese suppliers and government officials will all nod their head yes with no idea what they are agreeing to and couldn’t care less. They have neither the knowledge nor technology to adhere to our standards. There will be many more recalls.

This is the cost of cheap outsourcing. Ask any company sourcing from China as to what their reject rate is. Add paying up front, long supply line and high reject rate results in much higher costs. Only when American companies own and manage these plants will products be safe. More than one good brand will be killed by this accounting approach to management.

Japan started out selling junk to the America market and consumer quit buying. The same will happen with China unless they or the companies sourcing change their ways.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
14 years 5 months ago

Anyone who has visited China, or has been involved in product manufacturing quality assurance–anywhere in the world–knows that safe products are only truly assured when the manufacturer and suppliers are ethically and morally invested in producing them. Regulatory oversight has little to do with it.

Language and translation barriers, cultural aspirations to grow the Chinese economy, desires of managers to achieve personal wealth, and rampant acceptance of corruption within China on many levels all make me unconvinced that this “safeguarding of food imports” will be assured at any time in the foreseeable future.

Robert Straub
Guest
Robert Straub
14 years 5 months ago

Several people have touched on it, and,, yes, it is partly Wal-Mart’s fault… and Target, Tesco, and Carrefour, among many others. There is even term for it: Quality Fade, and it starts at the top with powerful retailers demanding cheaper and cheaper prices and it ends in places like the Chinese delta region where many, many factories all compete for the same Western business and do it by cutting corners at every conceivable opportunity.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
14 years 5 months ago

This is a waste of time. China doesn’t control its manufacturers. The Chinese government will respond swiftly with serious punishment AFTER the cat’s out of the bag, but they don’t have a system of policing production. Neither do we! USDA, USDC, etc. all have their bureaucratic processes, reports and regulations, but the fact is that direct oversight in many production facilities does not exist. The producers regulate themselves.

In the USA and Canada, producers tend to look beyond the end of their noses and realize that proper production precautions are good business. This is not necessarily the case in China. The general consensus in most third world countries is “a quick buck is the only buck.”

The fact is that we don’t have our ducks in a row here. Can you say e Coli? While all international deals are great window dressing, they usually have no teeth and only provide assurance to the uninformed. An opiate for the masses, so to speak!

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