Saturday, November 5, 2011


Between China and India, which country is more affected by food adulteration and fraud is a matter of conjecture as realistic and reliable data are never available regarding food safety related episodes. But China "scores" over India when it comes to international notoriety for life threatening incidences of food poisoning and fraudulent practices. The Melamine tainted milk episode that killed scores of children a couple of years ago is still fresh in the memory of people though Chinese government is reported to be tightening its food safety and quality regulations to ruthlessly put down such profiteering activities at the expense of human health. Coincidentally the US which is almost a client state of China when it comes to trade, had their food safety regulations overhauled recently requiring more stringent inspections and monitoring of foods imported into that country. There is going to be a paradigm shift in the quality monitoring regime from inspection of imported foods after arrival in the US shores to pre-inspection at the manufacturing facilities in China itself for which adequate inspection personnel are being positioned. How far this new procedures would overcome import of substandard and safety compromised foods into that country remains to be seen. Nonetheless it can be considered a more reliable system and only future will tell whether it can be managed well.

"Fifteen percent of the food Americans eat is imported, including 80 percent of the seafood, and two-thirds of the fruit and vegetables. Our current food safety system can't even begin to keep tabs on the 24 million shipping containers loaded with food that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates arrived this year from overseas. Increasingly, that food is coming from China, which has suffered a series of scandals involving tainted food. Enter the Food Safety Modernization Act, which became law earlier this year. One of its aims is to overhaul our 1930′s-era food inspection system, which relies on about 2,000 inspectors to monitor shipments at the ports. The law is why top FDA officials made the trek to Beijing this week, to the China International Food Safety & Quality Conference + Expo. Chinese producers ― or anyone who exports food to the U.S. ― will soon have to do more to prove to the companies that import their food that it's safe. Michael Taylor, the FDA's assistant commissioner for foods, told the crowd that the new law marks a fundamental shift from a system that relied on FDA inspectors detecting problems when food imports enter the United States. Rather than rely on port inspectors, the new system will be one "making importers accountable for verifying that their foreign suppliers have adequate preventive controls in place. Importers must manage their supply chains."

USA is one of the top food importing countries in the world and there has always been campaigns, some motivated and others genuine to cut down on such imports for fear of their safety. It was not long ago there were allegations that Chinese fish exported into the US are produced using poultry droppings as nutrients and food manufacturing and processing practices in many Asian countries were under a cloud. Whether the US likes it or not, with such heavy dependence on imported foods, there is no alternate option but to work with the supplier countries to improve the production environment to better their safety credentials. The role of private auditors has come under the scanner and for the success of the new safety monitoring management system integrity of safety auditors must be above suspicion. With corruption rampant in many developing countries how far importing countries like the US will be able to ensure the integrity of the auditors needs to be watched. A new set of performance standards for these auditors will have to evolved at the international levels with accountability on top of the agenda. One can only wish good luck to the prospective food importers where ever they are under such extenuating circumstances.


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