China, US look at assessing food quality

Updated: 2014-12-25 05:00

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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Members of China's Ministry of Agriculture recently convened in Shanghai for a two-day workshop on how to implement food-quality risk assessment efforts, using the United States Pharmacopeial Convention's tools designed to mitigate food fraud.

Government officials and scientists from the ministry expressed a "strong interest" in working with the United States Pharmacopeial (USP) to "explore possible applications" of USP's vulnerability assessment tool to agricultural products, according to the Maryland-based nonprofit organization.

The USP is the US' official pharmacopeia, a publication that lists medicinal drugs, their effects and directions for use.

"The integrity of our food is a universal concern and we are pleased to have the opportunity to discuss USP's ideas for addressing food fraud and food integrity and strengthening collaborative efforts to advance this important work," said Ronald Piervincenzi, USP's CEO.

The USP has a food fraud database launched in 2012 that examines reports of food fraud, which includes tampering or misrepresentation of food or companies making misleading statements about a product for economic gain. The database sources information from regulatory and enforcement agencies, the media, court litigation, and academic and scientific research, said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, USP spokesman.

More than 30 officials and senior scientists from 16 quality assessment laboratories from the Ministry of Agriculture participated in the workshop, USP said in its Dec 18 release.

"USP's new Guidance on Food Fraud Mitigation was of special interest during the workshop. The tool is intended to assist manufacturers and regulators in identifying food ingredients that are most vulnerable to fraud in order to effectively prevent and combat economically-motivated adulteration," said Zhu Wei, USP-China director of food chemicals, in the statement.

The USP, which was founded in 1820 and first worked with the Chinese in 1923 when its standards were translated into Chinese, recently launched its fraud vulnerability assessment tool to help regulators and manufacturers identify vulnerable ingredients in their supply chains.

Food fraud and concerns about food safety have plagued China for years, one of the most recent high-profile cases involving US retailer Wal-Mart. In January of this year, Wal-Mart recalled donkey products from its suppliers after it was told that donkey meat being sold to customers contained traces of other animals' DNA.

Testing of its "Five Spice" donkey meat showed that it had fox DNA and Wal-Mart quickly withdrew and sealed all its products. Later in June, the retailer announced that it would sponsor a translation of the Food Fraud Prevention online course developed by a Michigan State University professor into Mandarin.

A bill submitted to the bi-monthly legislative session of the National People's Congress Standing Committee will introduce potential new punishments for food safety violators, according to Xinhua.

Those who add "inedible substances" to food may be jailed for up to 15 days. "This is considered a tough penalty since other punishments specified in the Food Safety Law mostly involve fines and revocation of certificates," the news agency said.

The new version of the bill also gives extra punishment for adding expired products or additives to foods.

Major US fast-food brands also suffered from food-safety issues in China in the last year. Yum! Brands, parent company of KFC and Pizza Hut, and McDonalds' saw its China sales drop after one of its meat suppliers was shown selling expired products to the companies.