CSPI Urges FDA to Ban Grain Imports from China

American Pets are Serving as "Puppies in the Coal Mine"

April 24, 2007

WASHINGTON—The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should ban imports of wheat gluten, rice protein, and other grain products from China until the agency can certify that the products are free of chemical or microbial contamination, urged the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In a letter to FDA commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach, CSPI recommended that FDA should also evaluate whether a ban is needed for other foods or ingredients coming from China—the source of the contaminated gluten linked to the largest-ever recall of pet food.

CSPI’s letter comes in the wake of troubling new disclosures that China has denied entry to FDA inspectors investigating the pet food recall. Melamine, the suspected toxin in the pet food, was also recently detected by California authorities in the urine of hogs fed contaminated feed—a development that suggests that the problem could reach the human food supply.

“If U.S. pets must serve as the ‘puppies in the coal mine,’ we urge FDA to heed the warning and take action now to ban grains and other grain products until the Chinese government and producers can guarantee that these imports are free of illegal and dangerous substances,” wrote CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson and CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. CSPI recognizes that while closing the borders to these food imports is a serious action, it is a necessary action for FDA, given its current budget shortfall and lack of food inspectors. FDA inspection staff has actually shrunk by 15 percent since 2003.

The letter was sent to FDA on the eve of oversight hearings in two House committees. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will start hearings today with victims from various outbreaks and industry representatives. In early May, the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Affairs will hold a hearing at which former FDA commissioners will discuss the funding gaps and their impact on the agency. Additional hearings will follow.

Legislation has also been introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to create a unified food agency with modern authorities. Today, unlike the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the FDA does not have programs in place to ensure that exporting countries maintain safety systems equivalent to those in the U.S. USDA also has a far bigger food-safety budget than FDA, even though more people get sick eating FDA-regulated foods. Such disparities are addressed in Durbin and DeLauro’s Safe Food Act by modernizing the food safety laws, which are over 100 years old.


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