Food and Agricultural Imports from China
China is now the third largest source of U.S. agricultural and seafood imports.A series of incidents have raised public concerns about the safety of these products.In September 2008, U.S. authorities said they broadened their testing of milk-derivedproducts from China, following reports that melamine-contaminated baby formulahas sickened tens of thousands of Chinese children. They also announced a recall of some coffee products that may contain melamine.Early in 2007, evidence emerged that adulterated pet food ingredients fromChina had caused the deaths of a large number of dogs and cats. In late June 2007,the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it was detaining allimports of farm-raised seafood from China until shippers could confirm they are freeof unapproved drug residues.U.S. imports of Chinese agricultural and seafood products increased roughlyfourfold, from 433,000 metric tons (MT) and $1 billion in 1997 to 2.1 million MTand $4.9 billion in 2007. However, the United States exported a much larger volumeof these products to China in 2007: 14.7 million MT, valued at $8.8 billion.Two federal agencies — FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s(USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) — are primarily responsiblefor the government’s food regulatory system, although a number of other federal,state, and local agencies also have important roles. For imports, FSIS (whichregulates the safety of most meat and poultry) relies on a very different regulatorysystem than FDA (which regulates the safety of all other foods). Although allimported food products must meet the same safety standards as domesticallyproduced foods, international trade rules permit a foreign country to apply its own,differing, regulatory authorities and institutional systems in meeting such standards,under an internationally recognized concept known as “equivalence.”China officials assert that they have been moving aggressively to improve theirfood safety system and to close unsafe plants. China in late 2007 concluded amemorandum of agreement with the United States aimed at improving the safety of traded food and feed products. Nonetheless, some Members of Congress continueto express sharp criticism of both China’s food safety record and U.S. efforts toinsure import safety. In the 110
Congress, committees on both sides of Capitol Hillheld hearings on food safety concerns generally and on the China situation.Numerous bills were introduced focusing on imported food safety or containing suchprovisions, which would apply equally to Chinese imports. These bills include H.R.2997, S. 1776, H.R. 1148/S. 654, H.R. 2108/S. 1274, H.R. 3100, H.R. 3610, H.R.3624, H.R. 3937, H.R. 3967, and S. 2418.A provision in the FDA Amendments Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-85), passed inSeptember 2007, requires an annual report to Congress with detailed data onFDA-regulated food imports. Also in 2007, Congress cleared a consolidatedappropriation act for FY2008 which includes a provision blocking an FSIS rule toallow certain poultry products to be imported from China.