Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What’s The Matter With China?

We’ve turned to China to manufacture everything from cough syrup to dog food to cheap plastic crap sold at Wal-Mart, but I think it’s time we got to the bottom of this:
WASHINGTON, June 18 — China manufactured every one of the 24 kinds of toys recalled for safety reasons in the United States so far this year, including the enormously popular Thomas & Friends wooden train sets, a record that is causing alarm among consumer advocates, parents and regulators.
. . .
Over all, the number of products made in China that are being recalled in the United States by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has doubled in the last five years, driving the total number of recalls in the country to 467 last year, an annual record.

It also means that China today is responsible for about 60 percent of all product recalls, compared with 36 percent in 2000.

This is very scary to me. Because it’s not just cheap plastic toys anymore, it’s everything. Not only have we had the pet food-melamine scare originating in China, but also recalls of toxin-laced monkfish, tainted cough syrup and toxic toothpaste. People are dying around the world because of this. Hello! Is anyone paying attention?

What’s scary is that, in this globalized economy, you can’t look for the “made in China” label and avoid those products. Stuff isn’t made anymore, it’s assembled, and the components come from all over.

Remind me, who thought this was a good idea?

Last week the Chinese authorities destroyed U.S. imports of raisins and health supplements. They cited safety reasons:

"The products failed to meet the sanitary standards of China," the agency said in a brief notice posted on its Web site. No details were given on when or how the inspections were conducted.

The agency said it was asking "all local departments to increase quarantine examinations of foods imported from the United States."

Oh, we’re so sorry. I'm just glad to know you folks have standards. Now, would you mind applying them to the stuff you send to us?

Not coincidentally, yesterday the Chinese balked at U.S. lead limits on children’s toys.

The Chinese government opposes a proposed U.S. standard limiting the amount of lead allowed in bracelets, necklaces and other jewelry sold for children.

All but three of more than 30 Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls for lead in children's jewelry since 2003 were for China-made items. The others were made in India.

Little bit of tit-for-tat here, you think? Maybe a bit of, “you take our melamine wheat gluten or we won’t buy your California raisins”?

I’d say “screw ‘em,” except I really don’t think the American consumer is willing to pay the price--literally. What would these things cost if they were made here in the USA? What does it cost us when they’re not?

I realize China is a communist country, but as it operates with the rest of the world, it's the "free market system" run amok. No standards, no regulations -- it's like the freaking Wild West out there! When the "free hand of the market" intervenes in the form of product recalls, it's already too late for thousands of people and pets, dead from diethylene glycol or melamine poisoning. Next time I need to buy cough syrup or dog food, I'd like to know that key pieces of it aren't made in China. But there's no way of knowing.

The only way to be perfectly safe is to make this stuff yourself. Great. Can the model for consumer safety in the new millenium really be "Little House On The Prairie"?