US officials hear of fears over contaminated dog treats from China

America needs tougher regulation of products it imports from China, say experts, with dog food and pharmaceuticals remaining areas of concern

US experts fear China’s food safety problems are affecting dog food exports, according to evidence heard this week.

“We still do not know why dogs are getting sick and dying,” said Tony Corbo, an American senior lobbyist for the NGO Food and Water Watch.

Speaking at a Congressional hearing on food safety and China in Washington DC, Corbo said the new danger was the “Chinese jerky treat”, an imported snack which had caused many dogs to become sick or even die.

In April 2012, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors conducted inspections of the Chinese factories manufacturing this type of dog treat, the panel heard. But when FDA inspectors asked Chinese authorities if they could take samples of the products, the Chinese authorities refused.  

Although the Food and Safety Modernization Act – aimed at prevention rather than dealing with the after effects of tainted products – was touted by some panelists as a means of ensuring improved regulation of foods imported from China, Corbo was quick to point out that the new law has not been fully implemented. As a result, the FDA inspects only about 2% of all imported food products, he said.

When asked by the discussion’s chair, Senator Sherrod Brown, which food or drug imports from China pose the greatest risk to Americans’ health, the panel singled out medical and drug devices, saying that regulatory bodies “really do not have a handle on [these] manufacturing practices in China.”

Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, highlighted ever increasing transparency in the Chinese public health system. She said that great strides had been taken on the part of Chinese authorities to co-operate more fully with US public health bodies since scares such as the 2003 outbreak of SARS.

However, Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said there was still a “central and local gap” in the Chinese government structure when it came to identifying and locating infectious diseases.

He said he was “not optimistic” about greater transparency because socio-political stability remained the dominant concern for leaders. The only reason for recent co-operation with international authorities on the H7N9 virus, he argued, was that there were “not that many important socio-political events overlapping with what is going on right now.”

Tom Jamieson is an intern at chinadialogue