In its ongoing “Federal Player of the Week” series, the Washington Post put the spotlight this week on Irene Chan, the assistant director for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s office in Beijing. To say Chan has a tough job would be an understatement.
China has been dealing with a slew of high-profile food safety scandals. In the past few weeks alone, hundreds have been seriously sickened by clenbuteral-tainted pork, over a dozen noodle makers were ordered to stop production because they were using ink, industrial dyes and paraffin wax as ingredients, and 16 tons of pork was pulled from the marketplace for containing sodium borate, a chemical that seemingly transforms cheap pork into darker, higher-value “beef.” Chinese officials also arrested 12 people for involvement in a 40-ton bean sprout debacle, in which farmers were using sodium nitrite (a known carcinogen), urea, antibiotics, and a plant hormone called 6-benzaledenine to make the sprouts grow faster and look shinier.
Within what most would consider a work-in-progress Chinese food regulatory system, Chan must help “ensure that billions of dollars in food products imported every year into the United States from China meet American safety standards,” according to the Post. No small feat, especially considering FDA opened its first office in China in 2008, now there are three: Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
“We are establishing relationships with our regulatory counterparts and reaching out to industry,” Chan told the Post. “We want to work in a cooperative way, not just say there are problems. We are here to try and help them lift their standards.”
“The state of the industry is extremely varied,” noted Chan. “There are some companies with state-of-the art equipment that are top of the line, and there are really low-level mom and pop shops producing food.”
“A lot of people are doing food manufacturing and process that we are not even aware of,” she added.
Director of Chan’s office, Christopher Hickey, praised her work in the feature. “Her work requires significant skill and diplomacy, and management of multiple constituencies,” said Hickey. “Her keen intellect, professional skills and experience make her well-equipped to recognize local political, regulatory and industry trends, and to make strategic recommendations for areas where FDA should direct its resources in China.”
The Posts’s “Federal Player of the Week” is a joint project of the Partnership for Public Service. More features are online here.