As part of efforts to regulate imported food to the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will open its first overseas offices in China this year, an official said on Oct. 16. The first office will open by the end of 2008 in Beijing, with additional staff to be posted in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 2009.
Offices will also be opened in India, Europe and Latin America for the first time, said the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Mike Leavitt.
The move reflected the increased globalization of the world's food and drug trade, notably from developing to developed nations, he said. "Increasing our presence overseas will provide greater protections to American consumers at home and benefit our host countries as well," said Leavitt.
"Opening these offices will mark a key milestone in the globalization of our efforts to enhance the safety of imported food and medical products," he said.
Food quality concerns for imported goods are paramount for the FDA after recent high profile cases involving China. Over the last month countries around the world have issued recalls and bans of Chinese-made dairy products after high levels of the chemical melamine were detected in exported goods. In total, 46,810 children were hospitalized after drinking milk tainted with melamine, which was added in place of water to increase sales volume. Figures from China's Ministry of Health said 5,824 children were still receiving hospital treatment for kidney diseases due to the tainted products, according to a report from state news agency Xinhua.
"The globalization of the food supply and medical product manufacturing has demanded that we do things differently," said FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach. "We won't have to send our experts to another country to work with foreign governments and regulated industry to improve our oversight -- we'll have staff living there and working on the ground 365 days a year."
Last year, the U.S. imported more than two trillion dollars worth of products from around 825,000 inmporters. HHS and FDA projections indicate the volume of imports will grow as the international trade continues to multiply.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008