The first office will be established in China, where approval has been secured.

The first FDA staff will be posted in China, India, Europe, and Latin America before the end of this year, according to HHS secretary, Mike Leavitt. The decision is based on heightened scrutiny on imported medical and food products, due to recent quality control issues. Yet some wonder whether these efforts are being put in place to subdue public outcry.

The U.S. government recently secured formal approval from the People’s Republic of China to set up an office in China. A total of eight U.S. nationals is expected to be sent to China. Staff is scheduled to be posted in Beijing this year and Shanghai and Guangzhou next year.

The U.S. government is in the process of pursuing India’s formal approval to establish a second overseas office there. Staff will first be posted to New Delhi in 2008, and at least one additional office will follow in 2009, the HHS says. Plans at present are for 10 U.S. nationals to be posted in India.

In both nations, personnel would work closely with local authorities as well as industries that ship food and medical products to the U.S. to improve safety efforts. Their activities will include providing technical advice, conducting additional inspections, and working with government agencies and private sector entities interested in developing certification programs.

HHS/FDA will also be opening overseas offices in Europe and Latin America before the end of 2008, with another office to be set up in the Middle East to follow soon in early to mid-2009.

Department officials are also working to conclude Memoranda of Understanding with Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama to work together on product safety. Their collaborations could include information-sharing on their respective regulatory systems and joint workshops and training on the safety of food and medical products.

“We’re making steady progress to better safeguard our supply of food and medicines, though much work remains,” Secretary Leavitt says. “In the past year, we’ve upgraded labs and equipment, hired additional staff, and begun implementing product safety agreements with key trading partners including China.”

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