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Nov-08-2007 05:12printcomments

Oregon Signs Historic Import/Export Agreement With China

With the addition of checking imports from China, the program can address heightened concerns over food safety that have emerged among U.S. consumers in the past year.

cows photo
Oregon's beef industry could benefit if and when China opens its doors to U.S. beef imports.

(PORTLAND, Ore. ) - Oregon has become the first state to reach an agreement with the People's Republic of China on testing and certification of food products both exported and imported to and from China.

An historic Memorandum of Understanding signed this week in Portland has paved the way for added assurance that agricultural food products going in both directions meet the import standards and requirements for quality and food safety as defined by the destination country.

The agreement will lead to an official recognition of the Oregon Department of Agriculture's laboratory and Export Service Program by the Chinese equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"We are pleased and honored to announce this partnership with China, and expect that it will lead to greater export opportunities for both parties," says ODA Director Katy Coba. "This agreement allows ODA to assist exporting Oregon and U.S. companies who want to get their product into China as well as assuring U.S. importers of Chinese food ingredients that those products are safe and meet our standards."

Through its Export Service Program, ODA has agreements to conduct testing and certification of Oregon and U.S. food and agricultural products with several key export markets including Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The signing of the MOU adds China to the list.

"For the first time, Oregon agricultural exporters will have access to analytical and certification services for their products prior to shipment to China," says ODA Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs, who was one of the MOU signatories at the ceremonial signing event this week. "On the flip side, Oregon and U.S. importers who are buying Chinese food ingredients will also have access to enhanced certification and testing of food products to FDA standards. This gives additional assurance that Chinese products shipped to the United States meet all applicable U.S. laws and standards for food safety and quality."

Other signatories include Zhi Xiong Chen, chairman of the group representing the Chinese version of the FDA, and South China Agricultural University– a well respected authority in China on the country's food law and testing protocols. The scientific and academic expertise offered by the university holds strong influence on Chinese government policy. Its involvement is seen as very important to the process.

The signing was witnessed by a high-level delegation from the Guangdong Province Ministry of Agriculture, in Portland for talks about additional trade issues between the U.S. and China.

Hobbs will travel to China next week to complete a reciprocal signing that sets in motion the process of finalizing the arrangement. ODA and Chinese officials will conduct an exchange of testing information and methodology, which places both on the same page when it comes to analyzing and interpreting the results. The agreement has taken four years to get this far. The end is now in sight.

"This is a very big breakthrough for the State of Oregon and something we're quite proud of," says Hobbs. "It shows the confidence the government of China has placed in the Oregon Department of Agriculture. ODA has 20 years of experience in doing export certification of agricultural products. That has given ODA a reputation and track record of having technical capability for testing food products."

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The ODA certification for China is a voluntary, fee-for-service program as it is with other export countries that have agreements with the department. Companies are not required to participate in order to move product to and from China and the U.S. But the service will provide a shortcut for Oregon and U.S. companies that saves time, money, and reduces hassle.

ODA chemists and microbiologists perform analytical tests on food samples as they look for additives, preservatives, trace elements, and pesticide residues as required by those countries that have agreements with ODA. By pre-certifying the product at this end, exporters can expedite the customs processes of foreign markets and deal with any potential problems prior to shipment.

With the addition of checking imports from China, the program can address heightened concerns over food safety that have emerged among U.S. consumers in the past year.

"There is wide understanding in China and the U.S. that more can be done in terms of voluntary methods to ensure the quality and safety of agricultural foods that are shipped between the two countries," says Hobbs. "With this agreement, there will be a higher expectation of a product moving smoothly and without problems into China because of our certification, and the same would be true for Chinese products moving into the U.S. All expectations of food safety and testing can be met prior to the product actually moving across the Pacific."

FDA does conduct programs to inspect imported food. But routinely, that inspection only reaches a small percentage of all the food that comes into the U.S. Known foods of concern receive extra scrutiny, but other products may enter without the watchful eye of an inspector. ODA can now perform that function for importers and companies that want verification and certification that the food products are safe.

"Results of ODA tests will be shared directly with FDA, and can be used to better understand the quality and attributes of foods coming in from China as well as those being shipped to China," says Hobbs.

China continues to become a larger export market for Oregon agriculture.

ODA analysis and export certification can play a big role in building up that market. In particular, Hobbs says Oregon's beef industry could benefit if and when China opens its doors to U.S. beef imports.

Next up following the dual MOU signings will be the technical exchange between Oregon and Chinese laboratories, which will set up consistent sampling methodologies and will ensure that quality control is in place.

Hobbs anticipates the first product shipment certified by ODA– either export or import – could take place in the next 90 days.

Ultimately, the certification will assure customers in both the U.S. and China that food products exchanged between the two nations are safe and meet the highest standards.
Source: Oregon Department of Agriculture

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unidentified November 9, 2007 4:30 am (Pacific time)

Do I want to eat food from China? Heck no, God knows what's in the food. Be an American, buy American.

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