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Congress to Grapple With Chinese Food Safety


Ms. Verduin, welcome to the program.

PAT VERDUIN: Thank you.


WERTHEIMER: Let me ask you first. The United States - people in the United States, I think, believe that there is a food safety system that's at work, that food safety is regulated in this country. And lately they've gotten a kind of uncomfortable feeling that maybe it isn't after all. One of the possibilities Congress is considering is an overhaul of the Food and Drug Administration. Do you think something like that is necessary?

VERDUIN: Yes. If there are gaps that we find in the food safety system, whether there's a new chemical of concern or whether there's a new source of a pathogen, or in the case of China, you know, you're seeing some import issues, you know, if there are gaps that come up, we are going to work very quickly and very closely with the government agencies to close those gaps as soon as possible.

WERTHEIMER: It seems to me that from what I've read about China, that some of the people who are working to - in the industry that supplies the United States, are just heading in a fairly lawless fashion. I mean, we have food accidents in the United States from time to time; contaminations get in or the system breaks down somewhere. But this looks like an active, much more intentional contamination. I mean, does that just create a whole different set of problems?

VERDUIN: And we are, you know, already and have already - when we first heard about this - put significant increase in focus, attention and controls on the remainder of the food supply to make sure that the supply base - not only from China but from other countries - is not partaking in the same type of behavior.

WERTHEIMER: Obviously there is already considerable tension between the U.S. and China over trade issues of all kinds. Do you think that politics is going to take hold of this issue of food safety?


VERDUIN: Well, you know, I think politics could take hold of it. There are very - there's a great many entrepreneurs when you really look at it - small farms, small processors - and so China's ability to regulate that type of infrastructure versus what you see in the U.S., where you have large processor, large farms - is a big challenge. So what's really critical is that China reaches out to very well established food safety agencies like the FDA, like the U.S. food industry, and uses our expertise to help build a robust infrastructure. It seems like they are reaching out and willing to work with not only the agencies in the U.S. but in the industry. Time will tell.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much.

VERDUIN: Okay. Lovely talking to you.

WERTHEIMER: Pat Verduin is chief science officer with the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.