- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Bush administration should consider banning food imports from China if the Food and Drug Administration cannot ensure their safety, several members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee told the agency this week.

A letter to the FDA from four Democrats cataloged recent problems with Chinese food imports and asked for information on the issue for the past six years.

They added that if the agency cannot ensure the imports’ safety, the administration “should consider a complete ban of all food imports from China until such time that FDA can assure the American consumer of the safety of these imports.”

The committee and its oversight and investigations subcommittee are investigating the adequacy of FDA efforts to protect the food supply and hope to hold a hearing in coming weeks.

The letter to FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach was signed by Energy and Commerce Chairman John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat; Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee; Rep. Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, the subcommittee’s vice chairman; and committee member Mike Ross of Arkansas.

Tainted food from China is increasing as a problem, they said, citing as examples “mislabeled wheat flour contaminated with melamine, filthy juices and fruits, dried apples preserved with a carcinogen and mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides.”

They particularly cited concerns about the safety of fish and seafood from China, such as catfish containing banned antibiotics.

Tainted pet food has caused at least 16 pet deaths and thousands of dog and cat illnesses, and the FDA last week warned consumers against using Chinese toothpaste after finding tubes contaminated with a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze and brake fluid.

Other countries also have taken action against the imports, including Singapore, which has banned three types of Chinese toothpaste.

The letter asks for specific information, including data related to the level and value of Chinese food imports, imports impounded and analyzed, and FDA personnel looking at Chinese food imports.

FDA spokesman Douglas Arbesfeld said yesterday the agency was reviewing the letter.

China this week released food and drug safety goals for the next five years, promising stronger surveillance and export controls.

Officials outlined measures that need to be imposed, including better inspections, more testing and greater cooperation with the United States. They also called for better law enforcement.

An April five-year plan posted on the State Council’s Web site late Tuesday outlined plans to step up inspections, surveillance and investigations of “major food-safety incidents,” as well as recall efforts.

For exported food, “a system should be set up to electronically monitor … enterprises. A system should be established to trace and recall exported food with quality problems, as well as blacklist for food importing and exporting enterprises.”

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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