US FDA chief visits China to talk import safety

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WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) The head of the US Food and Drug Administration, in China meeting with safety officials, said today talks are progressing toward an agreement to boost the safety of food and drug imports.

FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach in recent days held talks with Chinese Minister of Health Zhu Chen and other officials, after a year that included reports of tainted products imported from China into the United States, from pet food to toothpaste.

Von Eschenbach, speaking to reporters by telephone, praised China's commitment to improving the system of import inspection, and called talks ''fruitful.'' A US congressional report issued earlier this month said poor food regulation in China may pose a grave threat to US consumers and must be bolstered by stronger safeguards when importing into the United States.

The United States and China are working toward a memorandum of agreement that will lay out goals for improving the safety of imports.

A contingent of Chinese officials will travel to the United States later this month to meet with FDA staff to finalize the details of that deal, Von Eschenbach said.

The agreement is expected to be ready for signature in December when US health secretary Mike Leavitt travels to Beijing.

The FDA shares oversight for import safety with the US Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for meat, poultry, and eggs.

REUTERS SYU BST2136

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