FDA inspectors could be moving to China

Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret Hamburg asks a worker a question in a Chinese food safety lab in 2010. Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret Hamburg asks a worker a question in a Chinese food safety lab in 2010. Eugene Hoshiko/AP

If it gets the funding it wants, the Food and Drug Administration will be spending $10 million next year to expand its inspection operations in China.

Nearly all of the increases to the agency's $4.5 billion budget come from user fees paid by drug and device makers who want their products approved. But the president has also requested $10 million in new approriations so that FDA can move 19 full-time employees abroad. Sixteen of them would be inspectors.

According to Patrick McGarey, the agency's assistant commissioner for budget, that total will include $4.4 million for food inspection and $5.6 million for inspection of drug plants.

The budget request reflects a recognition of the growing number of drugs, foods and ingredients coming from abroad. FDA has had an office in China since 2009, but McGarey said the new funds would allow the agency to expand its footprint.

"Their full responsibility is not just in inspection," McGarey said in a conference call with reporters. "There is a saying -- I didn't invent it, but it makes good sense to me -- it's much more efficient to educate people into compliance than to inspect them into compliance."

There's reason to think that the idea could garner Republican support. In a House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee meeting on drug safety last week, both Republicans and Democrats expressed concern about lax oversight of plants in foreign countries.

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