Next to Canada, India is the largest exporter of drugs, as well as the eighth-largest food exporter, to the U.S. It supplies 40 percent of the drugs consumed in the U.S. So why are there still so many quality control problems, such as Salmonella-contaminated spices?
Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), announced Wednesday that she will visit India Feb. 10-18 in order to get to the bottom of quality control issues, and to take steps in preventing sub-standard food and drugs from entering the States.
Hamburg plans to “connect with my counterparts in the regulatory agencies as well as have a chance to talk with industry leaders who are important stakeholders in terms of our activities,” she stated, according to Reuters. She will visit Delhi, Mumbai, and Cochin, will attend the World Spice Congress, and will pass through a seafood processing facility as well as a spices facility.
Hamburg’s move comes at a time when quality control problems have become rampant in Indian exports, especially in the spices market. Last October, the FDA released information showing that 7 percent of all spice imports between 2007 and 2009 were tainted with Salmonella. Another 12 percent of spice imports had bits of insects and hair in them. Though this is evidence that these spices may be dangerous, in the past, food manufacturers have argued that the imported spices are treated before being placed on the market — claiming the ones the FDA inspected were yet to be treated. Regardless, because most people often don’t consider spices when reporting food poisoning or Salmonella outbreaks, FDA officials believe the issue may be underreported.
A few weeks ago, the FDA banned products from a facility owned by an Indian drugmaker, known as Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd., due to several manufacturing violations. The company has been shut out of the U.S. market entirely.
“We plan to sign a fairly broad memorandum of understanding to strengthen the ongoing working relationship,” Hamburg said, according to Reuters. “It will be a fairly broad umbrella framework but will be important both practically and symbolically.” She continued, “We have made it very clear that we have a set of quality standards that we will adhere to.”