The ‘Made in China’ mentality is something that the Western world has become very accustomed to since China “opened for business” in the 1970’s. Unfortunately there have been numerous instances throughout the years since that have shaped this view, and many do not shed a positive light on foreigners' impressions of Chinese made products. There was, for example, the 2007 instances involving tainted milk and pet food which caused a world wide stir, resulting in thousands of recalls and some countries even banning certain imports from China or simply removing the products from the shelves.

The Past

Food standards in China

In the past, despite all food products being imported into the US being subject to the same standards and rigorous testing of domestically produced food, the international trade rules allows foreign countries to apply their own differing regulatory authorities and institutional standards in meeting international standards, standards which are not always clearly conveyed to the exporting country's manufacturers.

Here lies to gap between China and the importing first world countries. There have been efforts made in the past to monitor key quality factors such as:

  • The inability to monitor standards or trace discrepancies in thousands of small farms with no documentation.
  • Widespread overuse of fertilizers and antibiotics to respectively keep production under control on over-farmed land and prevent disease.

Research on these efforts by the Federation of American Scientists has shown that that although efforts were made in China to control quality and meet international standards, these efforts rarely lasted nor could be effectively implemented.

The Future

China's new 5 year plan was announced in the early months of 2011, a plan that included the announcement that China would no longer focus on low value manufactured goods, and would make the move towards higher value goods. The 12th five year plan aims at changing business environments to improve both technology and standards, the new plan “will have Chinese regulators welcoming advice and training from experienced foreign companies”

The Present

On the 4th of January 2011, a 5 year, US$1.4 billion dollar project, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), was set into motion by U.S. Congress. The new FDA plan aims to bridge the gap between foreign country standards and the US standards for Imports by making the US standards present in China from the farm to the table, which translates into uninterrupted quality control.

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received a US$50 million funding increase for 2012, and announced that $39million of this, a huge 78% will be put towards in implementation of the FSMA. The FDA, which has the backing of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the America Frozen Food Institute and the Snack Food Association, is responsible for around 80% of the US food imports and will be the key US component in the implementation of the new act.

The Reform: How the FSMA Will Work

US Customs and Border Protection

The Food Safety Modernization Act will involve the certification of third party auditors, whom food producers or importers will hire to inspect their goods and the production line from which it came from before it is shipped to the US. The new law calls for approximately 600 on-site audits of foreign food producers each year, with the number of audits required doubling each succeeding year.

The new act will also set standards for production of foreign producers of fruits and vegetables, with the overall goal being to prevent the outbreak of food–borne illness, which affect on average 76 million people a year, with 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, with a total cost to the US government of $152 billion a year.

The plan will see the third party auditors inspecting farms and plants on a regular basis to ensure that the production process is up to standards, and the produce of consistent acceptable standards meeting US food safety terms. The plan will reduce the reliance on the port inspectors, who at best only manage to inspect approximately 1% of all shipments that are received.

The focus will also turn to making sure that problems are dealt with at the base level of production, rather than address the problem as damage control- prevention rather than detection.

The Reception

The Chinese government has accepted the new standards with open arms, embracing help from their foreign partners to bring China up to global standards of food safety. The Chinese government alongside the new US Food and Safety Modernization Act have created their own committee, The Expert Committee for Healthcare, Food and Cosmetics Safety. The committee is a 35-member food safety expert subcommittee, which includes a board for technical standardization and a special board for risk assessment. Another Subcommittee on cosmetic safety consists of 37 members.

Despite the commitment to food standards being a new venture for China, the country has defiantly shown a very aggressive approach within the last 2 years. Although there is a long road ahead for China in terms of eradication of quality control issues, we must note that the country's relative inexperience and status as still developing is a key factor to many of its problems. Yet the country has been developing and is changing with the help of foreign forces.

  • Bonnie Roche- CPG Marketing Intern