- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

A senior Food and Drug Administration official yesterday said China’s plans to set up rules requiring food companies to recall products that pose a health risk could be a step in the right direction, although it is not clear how effective the move will be.

China — which has become caught up in an international furor over a series of problems involving toxins in products from pet food to toothpaste — plans to introduce the new rules by the end of the year.

David Acheson, the FDA’s assistant commissioner for food protection, also said yesterday that the new initiative is mainly aimed at China’s domestic, not export, market.

Dr. Acheson said he thinks that China has recognized the need for improved food safety but could not comment on the likely effectiveness of the recall plans because he had not reviewed them in detail.

Several China specialists have expressed concerns over aspects of the recall authority including whether it would be mandatory and enforceable.

What sort of trigger China envisions to spur a recall is the type of issue that Dr. Acheson said would give an indication of how effective the initiative would be.

Whether, for example, an outbreak of illness could trigger a recall would be significant, he said.

“It’s no good having recall authority if it never gets triggered,” he said.

Dr. Acheson said he was not aware of any U.S. officials’ looking into the initiative because it is largely a domestic Chinese effort. U.S. efforts, he said, are aimed mainly at ensuring the safety of imported food.

These steps have increased where problems have been found, he said.

For example, the FDA has an import alert in place on vegetable protein concentrate from China, meaning such imports are held at the border until authorities determine that they are safe to import.

In March, the FDA found pet food with wheat gluten imported from China was contaminated with melamine, a chemical additive used to create the perception of an increased level of protein in food.

Melamine, which is not allowed in food or animal feed in the U.S., is also used in plastics and household textiles.

The chemical caused the death of at least 16 dogs and cats and sickened hundreds of others. The outbreak led to the recall of more than 100 brands of pet food.

In related developments, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported Wednesday that a Chinese hospital had been sued by relatives of patients killed by or exposed to a fake version of Armillarisin A, a drug used for liver and other problems.

The injections, according to the newspaper, were manufactured by a company connected to deaths in Panama from tainted cough syrup.

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