Washington: Simply sending inspectors to China and other countries will not be enough to make sure food and drugs are safe and independent certification may be the best solution, U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt said on Monday.
He said Christopher Hickey, the U.S. agency’s Asia and Pacific director, was preparing to set up an office to strengthen oversight of food, drugs and devices imported from China.
But ultimately, Leavitt said, regulation is not the answer and he called for a new industry of global independent certification of farms, factories and other producers.
Leavitt, just back from a trip to Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam, said he believes U.S. officials need to set up shop in several regions. “I believe there is a need for us to be in India,” he said, naming Central America and Vietnam as well.
“We are beginning to lay the groundwork for our presence in those countries,” Leavitt said. He would visit China in May, and Central America and Mexico in June.They would deploy teams of experts from the U.S. needed though this will not be enough to ensure imports are safe.
“Instead of trying to inspect everything, we need to build quality in,” he added, saying that independent certification may be the way to do this.
U.S. European Union and other large governments would need to coordinate standards to have it work, Leavitt said. “This is a global dilemma,” he said.
Retailers can help put pressure on producers in other countries. Leavitt said U.S. stores forced small Indian farmers to label red peppers used in spices, for example.
China and the U.S. have tangled over a series of health-related scandals -- first the discovery of high levels of lead in toys, and, most lately, contaminated heparin.
Baxter International Inc recalled most of its heparin products in February after at least 62 reported deaths and other severe reactions among patients treated with the blood thinner, which is used to prevent blood clots.
The active ingredient is derived from pig intestines and often collected from small, mostly unregulated farms in China.
In July, China executed the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration for taking bribes to let medicine companies slip past his regulatory net.Leavitt said he was concerned when he saw how little regulation China has of drug and device manufacturing and was hopeful that the coming months will see some of this change.