Saturday, December 15, 2007

Something Smells Fishy

The recent food safety agreement between the U.S. and China appears to be off to a rocky start, according to an article in today's Wall Street Journal.

Following the detection of prohibited chemicals in previous shipments of seafood from China, the FDA placed a hold on the importation of five types of seafood from that country until the shipments cleared lab testing (at the importer's expense). But an exception was made in September for seafood from one Chinese processor, Zhanjiang Guolian Aquatic Products Corp. Now it would appear that the exempted processor is on the Canadian government's import alert list due to the presence of nitrofuran in a shipment of seafood. The nitrofuran-contaminated shipment of seafood, rejected by Canadian authorities in October 2007, had been routed through the U.S.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Guolian's general manager, Chen Han, as saying that the Canadian action was a "mistake", and was due to another company having falsely used Guolian's name. Mr. Chen claims that his company has emailed the Canadian government about this situation but, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, no such email has been received.

Some questions have apparently been raised about the Guolian exemption. A former FDA employee, Benjamin England, suggested in the Wall Street Journal article that the Company's political connections with the Chinese government might have been a factor in the decision. Mr. Chen denies this, saying that the exemption is due to the Company's "good quality" operation.

The U.S. government has stated that Guolian's import "hold" exemption was part of a pilot project under the U.S.-China food safety agreement. Yet Guolian was added to the FDA's import detention list in April 2007, and then removed from that list just five months later - in September - three months before the announced food safety agreement between the U.S. and China. Something doesn't add up.

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