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Newhouse Calls for Independent Scientific Review of Baseless Chinese COVID-19 Claims, Defends U.S. Food Supply Chain

March 23, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) joined colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Cochran, Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Acting Commissioner Woodcock, and Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Tai expressing concern that the World Health Organization (WHO), at the urging of China, may modify their assumptions regarding the transmission of the virus causing COVID-19 via food and food packaging, without evidence to support such conclusions. 

“A year into living with the ramifications of a global pandemic, it is clearer now than ever before how important science is to our decision-making and how fragile our nation’s food supply chain can be,” said Rep. Newhouse. “Men and women in Central Washington and across the country have been working around-the-clock to ensure a safe and secure food supply, and it is alarming that the WHO would accept unfounded, non-scientific claims made by the Chinese government that undermine confidence in our food safety and food supply chains. We must reject baseless, politically-motivated attacks that threaten our country’s agriculture industry and continue to trust the facts.”

The letter calls for the Administration to recommend that the WHO commission a panel of objective and independent virus experts to review the evidence presented by the Chinese government rather than accepting the unfounded scientific claims at face value.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Acting Secretary Cochran, Secretary Vilsack, Acting Commissioner Woodcock, and Ambassador Tai:

We write to you expressing concern that the World Health Organization (WHO), at the urging of China, may modify their assumptions regarding viral transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus causing COVID-19, via food and food packaging, without evidence to support such conclusions.  We are encouraged by the Administration’s actions thus far to stand up for science and ask the Administration to continue to engage with the WHO and the World Trade Organization (WTO) and promote the U.S. government’s scientific understanding of SARS-CoV-2 transmission as it pertains to food and food packaging.

After more than a year since COVID-19 was declared a global health emergency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), peer global regulatory bodies, and leading food safety experts have continued to underscore that there is no credible evidence to support the transmission of this virus via food or food packaging. 

For example, a recent opinion from the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Food (ICMSF) noted that despite the billions of meals and food packages handled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to date there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging, or food handling is a course or important transmission route for the virus.  Several additional literature reviews and analyses from leading experts and agencies around the world have similarly found that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness spread from person to person, and the chances of infection by touching the surface of food packaging or eating food is extremely low. 

Recent reports suggest that the WHO may accept claims made by the Chinese government that COVID-19 can be a foodborne disease or spread through food packaging.  We are concerned about the implications of conclusions that are not supported by science.  Such guidance risks not only eroding trust in our institutions but also jeopardizing the efforts of individuals at every step of the food supply chain who have been working to ensure a safe and secure food system as the pandemic persists.

We appreciate the USDA-FDA statement on February 18, 2021 reiterating current epidemiological and scientific information indicating the absence of  SARS-CoV-2 transmission through food and food packaging, and we ask the Administration to recommend that the WHO commission a panel of objective and independent virus experts to review the evidence presented by the Chinese government.

We also ask that USTR continue to engage with Members of the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Committee to represent the views of the United States Government regarding the science of SARS-CoV-2 transmission as it may relate to exports of food and food packaging and provide any relevant recommendations. We are appreciative of USTR for their previous engagement at the WTO on this issue.

We thank you for the steps that the Administration has taken so far to promote science on virus transmission and food safety.  We must continue to do so in a way that is not influenced by unproven assertions that undermine confidence in our food and food supply chains.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and your commitment to sound science.

 

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