Imaginechina via AP
Crowds of Chinese parents holding their babies who were fed with Sanlu milk powder wait
for examination at a hospital in Chongqing, China, Sept. 18
2008. (AP)

FDA to Establish Offices in China

November 17, 2008 02:58 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
After a spate of consumer product scares originated in China, the Food and Drug Administration has decided to set up three offices there.

FDA Heading to China

Repeated safety scares from Chinese-made products have prompted the Food and Drug Administration to set up three offices in China, according to the Associated Press.

Starting this week, the offices will try to curb the problems that have plagued consumers over the last several months.

The AP reported that the office of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt released a statement saying, "Establishing a permanent FDA presence in China will greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness of our regulatory cooperation and our efforts to protect consumers in both countries."

In 2007, consumers were troubled to learn that Chinese-made pet food had been contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. Later that year, the concerns grew when lead paint and other harmful chemicals were detected in Chinese-made toys.

Earlier in 2008, tainted heparin, a medication that prevents blood from clotting, also found its way from China to the United States. And more recently, a scare involving melamine in Chinese milk products, including baby formula, raised international alarm.

These will be the first internationally-based FDA offices.

Background: Melamine causes problems in food supply

China's state media recently reported that the industrial chemical melamine is "probably being routinely added" to animal feed, according to the BBC. Some have viewed the report as a confession that melamine may be present in much more than milk, which has been blamed for sickening thousands of babies and killing at least four.

Investigators recently traced melamine in four brands of Chinese eggs, prompting speculation that animals in China are eating melamine-contaminated feed.

Chinese authorities have destroyed more than 3,600 tons of animal feed contaminated with melamine, and closed 238 illegal feed makers, according to the International Herald Tribune.

While some of China's state newspapers suggested there is a widespread practice of adding melamine to feed, the China Daily newspaper said, "We cannot say for sure if the same chemical has made its way into other types of food."

China is one of the largest food exporters in the world, making concerns over food safety even more troubling to some individuals.

"It is illegal for any individual or any enterprise to add melamine into feed, and we will crack down uncompromisingly on melamine," Wang Zhicai, director of the animal husbandry and livestock bureau at the Agriculture Ministry, said at a news conference.

Melamine was also the culprit in the poisoning of thousands of babies in China. In October, the Chinese ministry offered a partial update of its official victim figures for the milk scare. As of Sept. 21, the official number of children hospitalized for melamine poisoning was at 13,371, reported Agence France-Presse. There were 10,666 children who remained hospitalized by Oct. 9, while 36,144 had been in the hospital but were allowed to return to their homes.

Thousands of others have received outpatient care, but a health ministry spokeswoman told AFP that they do not have updated figures on outpatients. On Sept. 21, it was reported that 39,965 children received outpatient care.

Ministry officials also said that while they do have updated figures for the total number of children affected so far by the milk scare, they will not make the information public.

Reuters reported that according to its analysis of local media reports across China, the number of affected children has reached almost 94,000—almost double the number of the ministry's last official count.

Despite the alarming numbers coming from all parts of the country, Chinese officials say that the epidemic is under control and that melamine has not been found in liquid milk in recent tests.

After infants in China became sick, worldwide concern over Chinese milk products developed. Some countries banned dairy imports from China, but at the time, authorities had only begun to consider the possibility that other products, such as candies, cakes and creams would also be contaminated.

Related Topic: Chinese pet food and toy scares

In 2007, investigators found that the Chinese manufacturers had been deliberately adding melamine to pet food, causing the deaths of some pets. The product was added to falsely boost the results of protein tests for the product.

Later that year, parents reacted with alarm as Chinese toys were recalled in massive numbers. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission discovered that 4 million Chinese-made Aqua Dots toys contained a chemical that, if ingested, can turn into the date rape drug GHB, a chemical that can induce seizures or a coma. At least two children fell into a comatose state after coming into contact with Aqua Dots.

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