In December 11, 2007, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ) of the People's Republic of China signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to enhance the safety of food and feed imported into the United States from China. HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt and the Honorable Li Changjiang, Minister of AQSIQ, signed the Agreement in Beijing in advance of the third session under the United States-China Strategic Economic Dialogue.
Randall C. Gordon, vice president, communications and government relations, National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), says the agreement establishes a bilateral mechanism for providing greater information to ensure that products imported into the United States from China meet standards for quality and safety.
In a Dec. 20 news release, Gordon said Chinese companies shipping specific designated food, feed and ingredients to the United States will be required to register, undergo annual inspections and be certified by China's agricultural inspection agency that their products meet U.S. standards.
Feed ingredients included
He said the accord, which is scheduled to be in force for five years and is renewable in five-year increments thereafter, will apply first to four categories of Chinese products that have "high import refusal rates" in the United States.
Agricultural products initially deemed to be "designated covered products" subject to the requirements are: 1) low-acid canned products or acidified foods; 2) pet food and pet treats of plant or animal origin; 3) food and feed ingredients (such as wheat gluten and rice protein); and 4) all aquaculture farming products other than molluscan shellfish.
Gordon explains that factors to be used in determining whether additional Chinese products warrant inclusion on the list are: 1) the potential or actual (direct or indirect) risk posed to public health based on product testing, inspection results or other relevant information; 2) the rate of rejection of the product by the receiving country; and 3) the prevalence of fraudulent or deceptive labeling or substitutions or additions of product that reduces the ingredient's quality or artificially increases its value. The two countries can add additional products by mutual agreement.
In order to enhance the safety of products sold in the U.S., Chinese authorities will implement two programs, both subject to an audit by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) within HHS. The first of these will require exporters to the United States to register with China's AQSIQ and agree to annual inspections to ensure their goods meet U.S. standards. AQSIQ will notify HHS/FDA of those products that fail inspection, and why. HHS/FDA will maintain an online list of registered companies.
AQSIQ will also notify HHS/FDA of all companies AQSIQ has suspended or that have lost their registered status. To better contain and resolve safety problems, AQSIQ will implement a system to trace products from the source of production or manufacture to the point of exportation.
Secondly, new certification requirements will help ensure products exported from China to the United States meet U.S. standards. Once AQSIQ's Inspection Bureau confirms a shipment meets HHS/FDA requirements, it will issue a certificate that carries a unique identifying number, which AQSIQ must also file with HHS/FDA. To avoid counterfeit certificates, technical experts from both countries will work together to implement a secure electronic system. AQSIQ will also develop a testing program that provides, as determined by HHS/FDA, a high level of statistical confidence in the quality of products exported to the United States.
HHS/FDA will explore mechanisms to notify AQSIQ when shipments of products exported to the United States are not certified, or come from a company not registered with AQSIQ.
The agreement also means that both the United States and China are now committed to notify the other within 48 hours of the emergence of significant risks to public health related to product safety, recalls, and other situations. In the past, there was no system of notification. HHS/FDA can request a timely investigation regarding any covered product if there is reason to believe it could pose a health or safety risk.
The agreement also calls for AQSIQ to assist and facilitate the inspection of manufacturing, cultivation, or processing sites in China by HHS/FDA. The two countries will develop joint training programs and activities, including in-laboratory and risk-assessment methodologies and compliance and enforcement programs.
HHS/FDA and AQSIQ will create a working group to meet within 60 days to develop a plan that further details specific activities each will undertake to implement the agreement, and to establish performance measures to evaluate progress. To do so, HHS/FDA could rely on benchmarks such as the rate at which HHS/FDA refuses entry of covered products into the United States; the percentage of items exported to the United States that are uncertified or exported by companies not registered with Chinese authorities; and the volume, frequency and public-health significance of products recalled, including counterfeit goods, as compared to the previous year. This working group will meet annually.
The wheels were put in motion for the agreement back in July 2007 when President Bush appointed Secretary Leavitt to chair a Cabinet-level Working Group on Import Safety, made up of twelve federal departments and agencies. Members of the Working Group visited ports, border crossings, supermarkets, retailers, meat and seafood processing facilities, and wholesalers across the United States to gain a better understanding of the vast import process. Secretary Leavitt also met with his counterparts from G-7 nations, Mexico, and the European Commission to discuss common import-safety challenges. On Nov. 6, the Working Group presented an action plan to the President made up of short- and long-term recommendations to bolster the safety of the increasing volume of imports that are entering the United States.
HHS spokespersons point out that the MOA complements the vision and goals outlined in the action plan, and will serve to build on efforts already underway by the U.S. Government to enhance the safety of imported products. During the second session of the United States-China Strategic Economic Dialogue in May 2007, HHS/FDA and SFDA launched negotiations on a binding MOA on the safety of food and feed exported from China to the United States. The negotiations resulted from a growing concern over ensuring the safety, quality, and effectiveness of many Chinese products exported to the United States.
Over the course of four sets of talks from July to November 2007, senior officials from HHS/FDA engaged in negotiations with senior officials from a number of agencies in the Chinese government. The American Feed Industry Association notes that negotiations began with a vision to increase cooperation and information-sharing between the U.S. and Chinese governments on the safety of exported food and feed, and, at the request of the Chinese, to enhance the technical capacity of China's regulatory agencies to help ensure Chinese exports to the United States meet U.S. safety standards.
In a statement issued in December following the signing of the agreement, American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) President Joel Newman said he saw the agreement as a major step toward realizing the feed safety objectives of his association. He said the feed industry was proud to have played a prominent supporting role in its enactment.
In 2007, AFIA hosted two key industry groups from the Republic of China. One meeting involved delegates from several levels of management who visited feed manufacturing firms, farms and equipment manufacturers around the U.S. In addition, AFIA Chairman Jim Sullivan met in Beijing with Bai Meiqing, chairman of the China Feed Industry Association, several members of his staff and other Chinese government officials to discuss an extension of the current cooperative agreement between AFIA and the China Feed Industry Association. In June 2006, AFIA President Newman traveled to China to address food safety issues and explore ways the two nations could mutually enhance their feed/food safety initiatives.