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Leavitt confirms FDA China office plans
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US Health Secretary Michael Leavitt on Friday confirmed plans by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish a local presence in China in a bid to further enhance the safety and quality of food and drugs exported to the United States.

Speaking in Beijing, Leavitt said up to 10 FDA staff will be stationed at three locations in the country, including the US embassy. Cooperation between the FDA and its counterparts in China will be enhanced through the FDA's presence in China, he said.

"Currently, we are waiting for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to approve it," he said.

The US has changed its strategy in terms of ensuring the safety of goods imported into the country, Leavitt said.

"In the past, we were just stationed at the borders attempting to catch unsafe products.

"For the next step, we intend to open similar offices in India, which, just like China, supplies a lot of goods to the US," he said.

Asked about the latest developments regarding tainted heparin products alleged to have been linked to the deaths of 81 people in the US, he said the investigation was continuing.

"Scientific tests are being done by both Chinese and American agencies, and both sides have detected the same contaminant in the heparin product supplied by the Chinese company.

"The supply of the heparin had been adulterated to varying degrees," he said.

But it remains unknown as to whether this is the actual cause of the problems in the US, Leavitt said, adding that the FDA will work closely with its Chinese counterparts to find the answers.

He also denied the claim that US pharmaceutical producer Baxter had failed to cooperate with Chinese experts during a field investigation of its heparin product.

"I think we have been proceeding with good cooperation," he said.

Andrew C. von Eschenbach, the commissioner of the US FDA, ruled out that the adverse effects of the heparin products could have been related to improper usage.

On a separate issue, Leavitt spoke highly of China's efforts in response to Monday's earthquake in Sichuan.

As the rescue mode moves to sustaining those who survived the earthquake, "containing disease might be a big concern", he said.

"We've actually been asked by the minister of science and technology for advice on how to contain epidemics after the disaster," he said.

"We have offered support to the Chinese government in any form we are able to provide, and are now working on the specifics of the implementation, he said.

"I expect there will be a further announcement soon."

The government has rallied all available resources for relief and rescue work, Leavitt said.

"We are confident in China's ability to respond to the quake and to prevent epidemic outbreaks in the hit regions," he said.

(China Daily May 16, 2008)

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