International Issues

Food, drug safety listed as top menu item for health experts

By Shan Juan (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-19 07:14
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BEIJING - Of the many dishes served up through Sino-US cooperation, food and drug safety is a favorite on both sides of the Pacific.

Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said during his visit to China in November that consumers had the right to expect that food authorities are doing everything they can to ensure food is safe.

"We don't want to be just responding to food/drug safety problems. Consumers want us to prevent them. That is why we are working so hard with our Chinese counterparts to ensure that we are together preventing those incidents from happening in the future," he told China Daily.

About 80 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients in the drugs US citizens take come from foreign sources, statistics from the US FDA showed. Seventy-five percent of the aspirin comes from China.

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To secure better drug safety through cooperation, the US FDA opened offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou at the end of 2008. The move came after concerns were raised earlier that year over the blood-thinner heparin, which was allegedly linked to 19 deaths in the US.

A joint investigation between China and the US discovered that the drug was produced in a chemical plant in Changzhou city in Jiangsu province, but was supervised by a US company, reports said.

The plant was never registered with China's State Food and Drug Administration and so was not subject to its quality checks and supervision.

The globalization of the food supply and the manufacturing of medical products have put demands on the US to do things differently and cooperate closely with key partners like China, said Michael O. Leavitt, former secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) said that they'd been cooperating with their US counterpart for more than 10 years, first in infectious disease control, and now focusing more on chronic disease intervention.

"Our fundamental approach is to help Chinese authorities and the people better understand and address risks to their own health, including infectious disease risks and food-borne diseases," said Thomas Frieden, who heads the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to him, they've helped train nearly 100 top-level epidemiologists from China CDC in nine years.

"They are now all working in provincial or national government disease prevention and control programs and this is a good way of building capacity to a better understanding and addressing of health problems," he said.

In recent years, the two also established extensive dialogue in health policymaking as they are both struggling to give their citizens more quality and affordable healthcare.

At the Sino-US forum on health policy held in Beijing in June 2010, Vice-Health Minister Huang Jiefu said due to globalization and rising communication between countries, many health issues and challenges can only be solved with international dialogue and cooperation.

Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health for the US Department of Health and Human Services, called on the two sides at the forum to further deepen exchanges and cooperation in the health sector.

"China and the US have cemented a long-term partnership and cooperation in many aspects like public health, disease intervention and scientific research," said China's Health Minister Chen Zhu.

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the US, urged a cross-country information and talent network be set up in the future to facilitate cooperation when he met Chen last year.

China Daily

(China Daily 01/19/2011 page2)