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Tasks for food safety
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Food safety has long been a big - and often contentious - global issue. The opening of the first office of the US Food and Drug Administration in Beijing today is therefore a big step forward toward tackling it. It gives both China and the US a new opportunity to step up their regulatory cooperation in food safety.

We hope the new FDA office will enhance efforts to protect consumers in both countries and make them more effective.

China will also dispatch its food safety officials to work in the US to the same end, thereby promoting the exchange of information on food quality and safety between the two countries.

Food safety, especially in relation to exports, has become a global issue with a substantial increase in food production speed and the amount of food consumed across national borders.

The recent cases of tainted food products in China have raised safety concerns in both countries. China reacted by taking a series of measures to tighten regulation and supervision and thus ensure consumers at home and abroad have safe food.

To that end, China is also closely cooperating with the international community. This was evident from the agreement China signed with the EU on Monday to exchange information on tainted food and other problematic goods more quickly.

However, blame games are no solutions for food safety problems. The US decided last Thursday to ban Chinese-made dairy products. But the move clearly did not take into consideration the fact that China's measures to contain the melamine problem have achieved concrete success. The decision is really regretful. The issue could have been resolved through coordination under the framework of food and fodder safety agreement between the two countries.

Such unilateral action smacks of protectionism in this time of global financial crisis, which requires fair trade to be promoted, not dampened. This is an unnecessary halt to the momentum of cooperation China and the US has been building up in food safety. It should be stopped immediately.

The US authorities should try to better understand what is really happening in China and seek solutions through communication and coordination with their Chinese counterparts. We hope the opening of the three FDA offices in China, the other two in Guangzhou and Shanghai, will greatly facilitate that process.

The US food authorities have much to offer in this area. They have more expertise than their Chinese counterparts in process management, which tracks agricultural products from field to dinner table, while China focuses more on the inspection of end products.

The FDA, through its offices in China, can have first-hand information on food safety here and monitor the production process of commodities before they arrive in the US. They will also make it easier for the FDA to communicate and coordinate with the Chinese food authorities and other concerned parties when problems arise.

We believe that concerted efforts and candid exchanges of information are key to solving food safety problems. Unilateral action will only hurt trade and consumer interest.

(China Daily November 19, 2008)

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