BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese company that made tires at the center of a huge U.S. recall lashed out Friday against the American importer, accusing it of misleading regulators and the public.
The importer, Foreign Tire Sales Inc., said Thursday it would recall 255,000 tires that it says are defective because they lack a safety feature that prevents tread separation.
The Union, New Jersey-based company has been sued by the families of two men who were killed when their van crashed in Pennsylvania on Aug. 12, 2006. The lawsuit says the van had tires made by China's Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co.
Hangzhou Zhongce said FTS has given three conflicting accounts of the accident to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which in June ordered a recall of as many as 450,000 tires.
''From these three different explanations of the same case, it's clear that FTS is using nonexistent facts to mislead the public and is trying to achieve commercial gain by getting people's sympathy,'' the company said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press.
According to the statement, FTS said in June 2007 that a tire defect caused the accident but then said a month later the van had three Hangzhou Zhongce tires and one tire from another brand. Zhongce said that left open the possibility that the other tire could have caused the crash.
On July 27, FTS noted that a police report said the accident could have caused the tire damage found afterward, the statement said.
''FTS distorted the facts and applied for a tire recall with the NHTSA by using actions that were not objective,'' it said. ''According to U.S. regulations ... the recall has to happen. Even FTS cannot prevent it.''
The Americans say the tires lack a gum strip, a key safety feature that binds the belts of a tire to each other. FTS said some tires also had a gum strip that was about half the width of the 0.6 millimeter strip that the company expected.
Chinese regulators said last month they had determined the tires met American safety standards.
FTS said Thursday that it went ''the extra mile'' and ran its own battery of tests, which it said conformed to its more stringent standards.
Hangzhou Zhongce, China's second-biggest tire manufacturer, said earlier it fully cooperated with NHTSA and found no evidence the tires had any structural defects or lacked safety features.
China is facing international criticism following recalls or warnings about products ranging from toothpaste to seafood in the United States and other countries.
Chinese authorities have launched an aggressive campaign of new regulations and crackdowns to assuage worries and protect its access to key export markets.
Also Friday, a health official said China still faces significant food safety challenges.
''After many years of joint efforts, China has enhanced its food safety levels by a large margin. Food safety qualification rates are continuously increasing,'' Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an said at a news conference. ''But there is still a big gap between the current food safety situation and the requirements of consumers.''
Mao cited ''severe challenges'' to food safety including contamination from sources such as bacteria, concerns about new ingredients, fake products and illegal ingredients.
Mao said the ministry dealt with 111,226 cases of illegal production in 2006 while inspecting products including baby food, health supplements and additives. Some 29,571 businesses were shut down and 1,700 tons of goods were destroyed, he said.
The ministry has established a daily supervision and examination system targeting small food producers and is monitoring 61 chemical contaminants in 54 types of food, including Sudan Red dye and formaldehyde, a preservative and an embalming fluid that has been linked to cancer in humans, Mao said. He did not give any details.
''We have grasped the trend of bacteria and other contaminants being found in major food products,'' Mao said.
He accused foreign media of ''playing up'' China's food safety woes, a common line officials have taken to defend the country's safety record and efforts to take the problem seriously.
''The question of food safety is a problem the whole world faces,'' Mao said. ''Foreign media are using irrelevant cases or just a few cases to make the safety issue much bigger than it is and have linked this to the success of hosting the Olympics.
''They have ulterior motives and we are opposed to this,'' he said. ''The truth needs to be respected.''