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FDA to open China offices after product scares

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[November 17, 2008]  BEIJING (AP) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will open three offices in China this week in an unprecedented effort to improve the safety of exports headed to America amid recurring product safety scares.

The new FDA offices, which are the first outside of the United States, will increase effectiveness in protecting for American and Chinese consumers, according to the office of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Leavitt and the agency's Food and Drug Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach will open the first office in Beijing on Wednesday, followed by one in Guangzhou and another in Shanghai.

"Establishing a permanent FDA presence in China will greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness of our regulatory cooperation and our efforts to protect consumers in both countries," Leavitt's office said in a statement last week.

Safety issues involving the blood thinner heparin, food and other products imported from China has put pressure on the FDA to boost its international presence. In the heparin case, a Chinese-made component contained a contaminant linked to as many as 81 deaths and hundreds of allergic reactions.

In October, cribs made in China were included in a recall of 1.6 million cribs issued by New York-based Delta Enterprises.

Last year, U.S.-based Mattel Inc. recalled more than 21 million Chinese-made toys worldwide. Products including Barbie doll accessories and toy cars were pulled off shelves because of concerns about lead paint or tiny, detachable magnets that might be swallowed.

Leavitt has said 13 employees will be assigned to work in the FDA offices in China but has not said what their role will be. He plans to make opening facilities in India and Central America his next priority.

Leavitt plans to attend two workshops conducted by American and Chinese government during his visit to Beijing.

The sessions will address outbreaks of food-related illnesses in the U.S. related to fresh produce as well as melamine contamination in Chinese dairy products which have sickened tens of thousands of babies, the HHS statement said. The nitrogen-rich chemical is used in the manufacture of plastics and fertilizer.

The groups will also discuss reforms that could improve the safety of consumer products and will exchange data on the toxicity to humans of melamine, which was added to Chinese milk to make it appear protein-rich in quality tests that measure nitrogen.

[Associated Press]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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