WASHINGTON – The recent scare of contaminated pet food and tainted toothpaste from China has led authorities to look more closely into the safety of imported food.
Seventy-eight percent of food processors in China are cottage industries run by families and have fewer than 10 employees,explained Drew Thomson,director of China Studies at the Nixon Center,a think tank affiliated with the Nixon Library. This makes it very difficult for the authorities to keep track of all products.
China relies on the extensive use of fertilizer and veterinary drugs to boost production of crops and livestock,Thomson said,adding that producers have to maintain a high yield in order to support their families. Thomson made his remarks at a recent conference on food safety in China.
According to World Trade Organization statistics,China's total food exports reached $53.3 billion in 2005,up from $7.5 billion in exports in 1980. Food ingredients and preservatives such as wheat gluten,lactic acid and ascorbic acid make up a large percentage of these exports.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association has proposed an action plan,”Four Pillars,” that would make importers responsible for guaranteeing the safety of foreign products imported into the U.S. Under the grocers' plan,importers would be required to verify that imported ingredients and products meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration food safety and quality requirements. The program would be monitored and enforced by the FDA
The World Health Organization is urging all countries to be more vigilant to ensure safe food production for their own consumers and to meet international health and safety requirements for food exports. Producers and traders should be held accountable for safe food production throughout the food production and distribution process,according to a statement on the WHO Web site.
A U. S. safety import report recommends looking into the life cycle of the imported product and the risks that are faced during the whole process.
This involves verifying the safety of products at points where risk of unsafe products is greatest. Such a risk-based,prevention-focused model could help ensure that safety is built into products before they reach the borders.