Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Made in China

(UPDATE: 8/22/07, 11:00am - Now it's blankets.)

(UPDATE: 8/22/07, 3:35pm - And now it's chopsticks! Recycled without benefit of sanitizing by a Chinese company. Think about that next time you order General Tso's chicken.)

(ORIGINAL ARTICLE) -I suppose it was just a matter of time before the bubble of inexpensive, imported items from China burst. The first indication was last spring's pet food scare wherein an unknown number of cats and dogs sickened and died after eating contaminated food. This triggered a massive recall of pet food from retailers around the world. Unscrupulous Chinese suppliers used wheat gluten "enhanced" with melamine and other compounds to inflate its apparent protein value. It soon was revealed that similar practices occur in the production of food for humans as well, at least in China and other parts of Asia.

Soon came the warnings of toothpaste and cough syrup from China containing a deadly chemical, diethylene glycol (DEG), used in antifreeze and brake fluid. DEG is a thickening agent which replaced the more costly glycerin, commonly used in the manufacture drugs. In Panama in 2006 at least 51 people died after ingesting cough syrup laced with DEG. The FDA is now blocking the importation of Chinese toothpaste, and one would hope, cough syrup. Also, the FDA has warned drug companier, suppliers and pharmacists to make sure that any glycerin used is free of contamination.

Chinese tires also made the recall list. almost a half-million tires were defective due to the lack of a key safety feature. Many of these were sold in the US.

This was recently followed by several toy recalls. Due to excessive amounts of lead,Fisher-Price recalled 83 types of toys made, at least in part, in China, Big Birds, Elmos, Doras to name a few. This was followed by Mattel Inc. issuing on August 14, 2007, a a recall for 9 million Chinese-made toys, some with small magnets, some also with potentially dangerous levels of lead paint. *
Now we have to watch out for items of clothing. New Zealand is inspecting Chinese-made clothing supposedly containing high levels of formaldehyde which can cause skin irritations and possibly cancer. Several parents have reported problems with their childrens' nightclothes causing rashes.

What to make of all this? What seems to be a coincidence at this point must cause manufacturers and governments to be taking a closer look at Chinese and other imports. They must ramping up investigatory agencies to prevent similar dangerous items from entering the marketplace. One hopes that any deviations from safety standards will be spotted among the items examined. But what of the items not examined? Let's face it. It is impossible to thoroughly or even cursorily examine each shipment of goods from China or anywhere else for that matter.

In the final analysis, it is up to each consumer to protect himself from unsafe imports, just as it is in every other aspect of his life. Since food items don't list countries of origin for each nutritional component, it makes sense to buy only from trusted food manufacturers, if one must buy prepared food. Although growing one's own food may be the best protection against poisoning, due to accident, neglect, or criminal intent, that is no longer possible for the vast majority of people. Careful selection of foods is possible. Buying locally grown produce, when in season, careful investigation of meat and dairy producers, as well as scrupulously clean kitchen practices, should take care of most food threats. We must rely on our government agencies to do the investigations for us. Governmental representatives must be reminded of their obligation to
ensure that these agencies are well-funded and well-managed to protect the country from unscrupulous or just careless suppliers of food and other consumer goods.

Even with adequate governmental inspections, some items one has to take on trust. Because no one can make his own car tires, trusted manufacturers will have to do. (Remember the Firestone tire recall in 2006 when at least 6 1/2 million tires were recalled?) Few people make their own clothing, much less weave their own fabric, or grow their own cotton. At the very least, purchasing items from trusted manufacturers can lend one some sense of safety. Unfortunately for all, the recent experiences with "Made in China" items has lent some more credence to the old saw "you get what you pay for."

(Remember playing with toy soldiers made of lead? We probably chewed on them also. My father had a collection of magnets that I played with quite often. It never occurred to me to eat them.)

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