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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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FDA’s CVM Participates in Food Safety Workshop in Guangzhou, China

by Dr. S. Steve Yan, Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation, Division of Human Food Safety and Dr. Merton Smith, Office of the Center Director, International Activities

In September 2009, the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and the Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau (CIQ) of the People’s Republic of China co-sponsored a technical workshop in China on the safety of food made from animals. The workshop gave U.S. and Chinese food safety officials the opportunity to describe their country’s food safety programs, understand how the other country’s regulatory systems operate, and work toward enhancing and ensuring the safety of food products traded between the two countries.

FDA and AQSIQ

FDA and China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ) have similar food safety responsibilities. In China, AQSIQ conducts commodity inspections; regulates animal and plant quarantines; establishes and applies food safety standards; issues certifications; provides accreditations; and performs related law enforcement activities. AQSIQ manages 35 CIQs in China's 31 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions. There are more than 200 CIQ local offices across the country at all seaports, land ports, and airports, with more than 30,000 CIQ employees in these offices.

As one of the largest exporters of Chinese seafood products to the United States, the CIQ in Guangdong Province is particularly important. The Guangdong CIQ oversees about one-third of all food products imported to and exported from China.

Increasing U.S.-China Trade Calls for Increased Collaboration

China is currently the third largest source of agricultural and animal products, including seafood, imported into the United States each year. The volume of these products traded between China and the U.S. has increased significantly in recent years.  

The amount of Chinese agricultural and animal products imported into the United States increased roughly fourfold in just 10 years, from 433,000 metric tons and $1 billion in 1997 to 2.1 million metric tons and $4.9 billion in 2007. In 2007, the United States exported an even larger volume of these products to China – 14.7 million metric tons, valued at $8.8 billion.

Over the last few years, several incidents raised public concerns about the safety of food products from China.  On March 15, 2007, FDA learned that certain pet foods were sickening and killing cats and dogs in the United States. FDA found that the pet foods were made with melamine-contaminated wheat products, labeled as gluten, imported into the United States from China.  Also, in late June 2007, FDA announced that it was detaining all imports of farm-raised seafood from China until shippers could confirm that the imports were free of unapproved drug residues. In September 2008, FDA broadened the testing of milk products from China following reports that melamine-contaminated baby formula had sickened thousands of Chinese children and caused the deaths of some Chinese infants.

In December 2007, FDA signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with AQSIQ to enhance the safety of food products traded between the United States and China and to provide a framework to address mutual food safety concerns. The agreement committed the two countries to form a working group to develop and implement a food safety plan. As part of this plan, the United States agreed to train Chinese officials on U.S. regulatory requirements, focusing on inspections, risk assessments, and laboratory testing standards.

2009 CVM-Guangdong CIQ Workshop

The idea for a food safety workshop between the United States and China started at the Codex Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance meeting in the Republic of Korea in October 2008. At that meeting, representatives of the Guangdong CIQ expressed an interest in having CVM participate in a workshop to address important food safety concerns. The initiative for this joint workshop was fully supported by both AQSIQ headquarters in China and FDA’s Office of International Programs, including the Director of the FDA China Office and the FDA Deputy Commissioner for International Programs.

The workshop, held by the Guangdong CIQ in Guangzhou, China, focused on detecting antimicrobial drug residues and antimicrobial resistant microorganisms in food made from animals.

At the workshop, CVM presented on several topics, including updates on current laboratory methods to detect drug residues and antimicrobial resistant microorganisms in food made from animals; risk assessment principles and procedures; field monitoring and compliance programs; and CVM’s international activities related to food safety and the approval of drugs used in food-producing animals.

More than 130 Chinese food safety experts, from 20 major cities in Guangdong Province and other locations around China, attended the workshop. Attendees were food safety laboratory personnel, senior regulatory officials, and researchers. Some of the attendees were from various Chinese government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, and AQSIQ headquarters. Academic institutions, industry, and the Government of Hong Kong were also represented. The participants asked many relevant and thoughtful questions which resulted in extensive discussions during and after the workshop. There were also a number of requests for continued exchange of scientific and regulatory information about food safety.

The workshop came at an opportune time for discussing risk-assessment principles and other technical expertise relating to food safety because it occurred shortly after China’s new food safety law took effect. The law mandates China to adopt risk-assessment approaches for food safety on a national level. CVM’s experience in applying a risk-assessment approach to drug approval decisions is especially helpful as China works to establish new food safety procedures. China wants to learn more from CVM about how these risk-assessments were implemented and how they are used in CVM’s review and approval of antimicrobial drugs for food-producing animals.

The workshop provided the Chinese participants with a good overview of CVM’s food safety responsibilities and regulatory systems. The workshop also gave CVM participants a good understanding of the responsibilities and programs of China’s AQSIQ and CIQs. Most importantly, professional relationships were forged that will enhance the future cooperation and communication between China and the United States.

A Good Start, but More Work Ahead

Because of the high volume of trade between the United States and China, problems with food safety will inevitably occur, but the professional contacts and collaborative activities of FDA’s CVM and China’s AQSIQ will help prevent or minimize future problems.

The food safety workshop was the first technical workshop in China since the MOA was signed between AQSIQ and FDA in December 2007. The feedback from FDA’s Chinese counterparts was very positive and can be read in Chinese at http://www.gdciq.gov.cn/newsdetail1.aspx?id=9185.Exit Disclaimer

The workshop exemplified the collaborative efforts of FDA and its Chinese counterpart, the AQSIQ, to make sure that food products made from animals are safe for consumers in the United States and China.  Although there is a lot of work ahead, both countries are fully committed to these on-going and important food safety efforts.

Mr. Brian Goldbeck, U.S. Counsel General in Guangzhou, summarized the positive outcome of the workshop in his closing remarks:

“The workshop is for building fundamental trust about food safety so that the people of our two countries can, with confidence, eat foods in the United States coming from China, or here in China coming from the United States. Thus, the work that the workshop is doing is really to build a bridge of friendship and trust between the two countries…. One of the reasons we established the FDA Office in the Guangzhou Consulate was to demonstrate that the United States is committed to building a better relationship with China. And so the FDA Office has been working with you (the Chinese authorities) to help develop a common understanding about (food) standards. And this (workshop) helps to facilitate trade of products to the United States…and safe products for Chinese consumers – your friends, your family, and your children.”

Six people from CVM, representing several offices and divisions, shared their food safety expertise in workshop presentations and discussion groups:

  • Dr. Merton Smith, Special Assistant for International Activities, Office of the Center Director
  • Dr. S. Steve Yan, Microbiologist, Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation (ONADE)
  • Dr. Tong Zhou, Toxicologist, ONADE
  • Dr. Heather Harbottle, Research Microbiologist, Office of Research (OR)
  • Dr. Pak S. Chu, Research Chemist, OR
  • Ms. Deborah Cera, Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, Office of Surveillance & Compliance