WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Dec. 19, 2007 -- The Bush administration's top health official says the
Chinese government is taking seriously U.S. concerns about unsafe food, toys,
and other exports.
"I know they have the message," said Health and Human Services
Secretary Michael Leavitt, who returned this week from a trip to China. Leavitt
was there negotiating the opening rounds of a deal designed to crack down on
lingering safety problems in food and other products pouring from China into
Leavitt told reporters in Washington that the Chinese government is willing
to open up its food industry to more transparency and to track its consumer
product producers more closely.
The agreement, which is still in outline form, also allows U.S. inspectors
into Chinese plants and distribution centers involved in exports "on a
notice or a without-notice basis," Leavitt said.
"But they've got a long way to go, and they know it," he said.
Last month the Bush administration released a 50-point proposal designed to
update U.S. standards for tracking and inspecting imports.
The report comes on the heels of a year of safety problems plaguing both
foreign and domestic companies. The problems included tainted pet food,
toothpaste, and lead-contaminated toys, all from China. In June, the U.S.
government also slapped an import ban on five species of farmed fish imported
from China because of concerns the fish could contain trace amounts of drugs
and unsafe additives.
The report asks Congress to increase maximum fines on rogue consumer
products producers from $1.8 million to $10 million. It also seeks to give
priority status to foreign companies that agree to meet U.S. safety standards
before shipping products overseas.
Leavitt played down the chances that agreements with China and a new
strategy from the Bush administration will quickly guarantee the safety of the
nearly $2 trillion-per-year import industry.
"There's no one report, no one agreement that will solve this
problem," he said.
The administration's plan met with skepticism from Democrats on Capitol
Hill. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who chairs the appropriations subcommittee in
charge of food safety, calls the plan inadequate because it relies too much on
voluntary regulation by companies.
"I think that those days are over and they can't self-police,"
DeLauro tells WebMD. "We continue to put our lives in the hands of
The House on Wednesday passed a bill tightening toy safety standards and
increasing the power of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate the
industry. The Senate has not yet acted on the bill.
SOURCES: Michael O. Leavitt, secretary, Department of Health and Human
Services. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. Department of Health and Human Services:
"Food Protection Plan: An integrated strategy for protecting the nation's
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