Friday, 14 November 2008

U.S. food agency detains Chinese imports for testing (IHT)

U.S. food agency detains Chinese imports for testing
By Andrew Martin and Gardiner Harris
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Candy, snacks, cereal and any other products from China that contain milk will be detained at the border until tests prove that they are not contaminated, the U.S. government announced Thursday.
The Food and Drug Administration said that it had issued the alert because of concerns about Chinese products being contaminated with the toxic chemical melamine. Since September, more than 50,000 infants in China have become ill and at least four have died because they tainted infant formula.
Since then, melamine has been found in a range of products, including milk, eggs and fish feed. Companies in the United States have recalled several products, including non-dairy creamer and a type of candy, which are primarily sold in Asian markets, because of melamine concerns but to date the contamination here was not thought to be widespread.
"We're taking this action because it's the right thing to do for the public health," said Dr. Steven Solomon, an FDA deputy associate commissioner.
As a result, Chinese products that contain milk or milk powder will be detained until the manufacturer or its customer has the product tested and found to be free of contamination, or they show documentation indicating that the product does not contain milk or milk-derived ingredients.
"The burden shifts to the importer," Dr. Solomon said.
FDA analyses have detected melamine and cyanuric acid, another toxic chemical, in "a number of products that contain milk or milk-derived ingredients, including candy and beverages," according to an alert that the agency sent to field personnel. The alert also noted that inspectors in 13 other countries had discovered melamine in Chinese products including milk, yogurt, frozen desserts, biscuits, chocolates and cookies.
The FDA routinely blocks imports of individual food products, but it is rare for the agency to block an entire category of foods from a particular country. Last year, the FDA blocked five types of farm-raised seafood as well as vegetable protein from China because of repeated instances of contamination from unapproved animal drugs and food additives.
Unscrupulous food and feed dealers in China add melamine to their products because it fools tests that measure protein levels. Because it dissolves poorly, melamine can block the body's filtering system, potentially leading to kidney failure and death.
Dr. Solomon said that the alert would probably apply mostly to specialty products sold in Asian markets. But Benjamin England, a former lawyer at the FDA, described the latest alert as "massive" and said it could affect "a tremendous amount of goods."
"It's going to jam the ports up all the up the supply chain," said England, who represents food supply companies.
As a result of the earlier alerts on seafood and vegetable protein, most private laboratories that perform product tests for melamine already have long waiting lists, England said. And the FDA takes three to four weeks to review submitted tests, England said.
Chinese producers of shrimp, for instance, recently started breading their product to avoid a controversy over an anti-dumping lawsuit, England said. But breading often contains dairy, and that product could be detained at ports.
The effect of the alert will probably be long-lasting, England said, because importers must prove that each and every shipment is free of contamination.
"It's impossible to get off the alert list," England said.

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