BEIJING — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (H.H.S.) and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (A.Q.S.I.Q.) of the People’s Republic of China signed an agreement on Dec. 11 designed to enhance the safety of food and feed imported into the United States from China. The two countries also reached agreement on drugs and medical devices.
"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," said Mike Leavitt, secretary of the H.H.S.
In order to accomplish that goal, Mr. Leavitt said the agreements call for a three-pronged strategy of registration, certification and verification.
As part of the registration process, individuals or companies looking to export to the United States will be required to register with the A.Q.S.I.Q. and agree to annual inspections to ensure their goods meet U.S. standards. Once registered, the A.Q.S.I.Q. will notify the H.H.S. and the Food and Drug Administration of any failed inspections. The A.Q.S.I.Q. also will be responsible for notifying the H.H.S. and F.D.A. of any companies that have been suspended or lost their registered status.
In regards to certification, the A.Q.S.I.Q.’s Inspection Bureau will make sure products exported from China to the United States meet the latter’s standards. Once a shipment has been confirmed as meeting the requirements, the A.Q.S.I.Q. will issue a certificate that carries a unique identifying number and will file the number with the H.H.S. and F.D.A.
Lastly, to verify compliance, the A.Q.S.I.Q. has agreed to adopt quality-assurance methods every step of the way, including implementing a secure electronic tracking system to follow products from production to exportation.
Another important aspect of the agreements is information sharing, Mr. Leavitt said.
"Chinese authorities have pledged to provide timely notification to U.S. regulators under a wide range of circumstances, including the failure of a facility to meet inspection requirements and the suspension or revocation of a manufacturer’s certification status," he said. "Inspectors from H.H.S.’ Food and Drug Administration will also gain broader access to Chinese production facilities and on an expedited basis."
While the United States has a good system for assuring the safety of imports, Mr. Leavitt said it "is not adequate for the future."
"To keep up with the pace of global commerce, we need a fundamental shift, from trying to catch unsafe products as they come in, to building quality and safety into our products before they reach our borders," he said.
There has been a long list of food safety infractions with products from China recently. U.S. inspectors have banned or turned away a number of Chinese exports in recent months, including wheat gluten tainted with melamine. Monkfish were discovered to have life-threatening levels of pufferfish toxins, frozen eel was laced with drugs, and juice was made with unsafe color additives.