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FDA's global efforts start in China

A hawker sells pork at a food market in Xiamen

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Scott Tong: Today, the Food and Drug Administration opened its first office overseas -- in China. It's an obvious choice, considering the list of tainted food products coming out of China. I'm joined by our correspondent in Shanghai, Scott Tong. Scott, what's the FDA hoping to accomplish with this?

Scott Tong: The point is for U.S. checkers of food to move past the borders, where traditionally United States officials check food from China and other places. It's to go closer to where the point of origin is.

Jagow: And is the FDA thinking this is the solution to the problem of tainted food and other products getting into this country?

Tong: Well, um, surprise surprise, it's not going to be the silver bullet. China has something like 400,000 small food processors. I mean, there are little tiny plants and farms, and it's so fragmented. And so it's impossible for anyone to check every single one. So the risks will always be there. The hope is that these risks get minimized when the right people are involved.

Jagow: And is this just a one-off with China, or is the FDA planning to expand this in other countries?

Tong: Oh, it's in a lot of places in the world. There will be three offices in China, and India and Europe and Latin America. The point, as the FDA official said today, is to globalize the agency's mission, because more and more of what Americans eat comes from overseas -- it's something like 15 percent of food that Americans eat is imported now. And as far as China's concerned, there is a China footprint, whether you know it or not, in a lot of aisles in the supermarket -- it's vitamins, dietary supplements, processed foods, on and on. It's more globalized than most of us know, and the FDA is trying to keep up with that.

Jagow: Scott Tong, our correspondent in Shanghai. Thank you.

Tong: OK, Scott.

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