Food program aims to address security

Updated: 2013-08-02 11:05

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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The University of Minnesota has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine Center on food safety, protection and defense issues.

University President Eric Kaler signed the memorandum last week with Li Xinshi, director general of the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine (CAIQ), on the Minnesota campus, where the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD) is based. The memorandum promises collaboration on food safety, food protection and food defense issues with the center, which is run under the US Department of Homeland Security.

The memorandum was signed in the same week that China stopped the import of poultry products from Arkansas and a number of US states, including Minnesota, after birds at an Arkansas farm were tested positive for a low-pathogenic strain of avian flu in June. The restriction also applies to certain poultry products from New York, Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin based on the birds' dates of slaughter.

"I don't think right now we're at the point where we can say we're going to look directly at poultry or another specific food item," Karen Everstine, a NCFPD research associate, told China Daily. "What we're doing now is starting to have these working sessions to help us find out what each of our groups is doing in [food security related topics] and where we can help each other out, where we can collaborate, to push things forward."

Everstine said the US has a very strong trade relationship with China in food "so it's natural collaboration".

"The [NCFPD] has a lot of projects that look at different aspects of risk in the food supply. Basically, we're interested in these potential for large-scale catastrophic food events," she said.

The two sides are going to start their collaboration by exploring such topics as how each side can prevent economically motivated adulteration, or food fraud, and conduct risk assessments in the food system, Everstine said.

"If it's intentional contamination, if it's the threat of bioterrorism in the food supply, we're interested in it," the researcher said. "If it's food fraud, if it's somebody who's selling you something knowingly that's not up to standard just so they can make extra money, we're interested in that."

Everstine said professional training in food security will be a big component of the collaboration, particularly in light of the Food Safety Modernization Act, also known as the Food Safety Act.

The act, signed into law in 2011, gives the US Food and Drug Administration authority to order recalls of contaminated food, among other powers, with the purpose to provide safer food supply and a more stable food industry.

Everstine said the act is going to affect food manufacturers globally as the government introduces new rules to the act.

"A lot of our food is imported," Everstine said. "Really, we don't have a choice but to collaborate if we're all trying to reach that same goal of food protection."

(China Daily USA 08/02/2013 page11)