China Plays Hardball With Toy Manufacturers

'This is a very real problem'; new campaign aims to crack down on unqualified toy makers.

BEIJING (AP) β€” China launched a campaign to weed out unqualified toy manufacturers Tuesday as a U.S. lawmaker called on the country to effectively address its product safety problems.
Toys are on a lengthening list of Chinese exports found to contain high levels of chemicals and toxins, triggering worldwide concerns and numerous recalls of goods from toothpaste to pet food ingredients.
''This is a very real problem,'' said Rep. Rick Larsen, who was on a weeklong visit to China. ''It's visceral.''
''It's about your child and it's about your pet and it's about food on the table,'' said Larsen, a Democrat from Washington state. ''You can't get more personal than that for Americans, and so it does need to be addressed.''
Larsen and Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, of Illinois, are co-chairs of the U.S.-China Working Group, which is focusing on the expansion of export opportunities to China for small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses.
Larsen said the delegation met Tuesday with officials from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, who said they recognized there was a problem and that it was being fixed.
Before Congress' August recess, Kirk introduced a bipartisan bill that would increase penalties against importers of contaminated goods by 100 times. Food and toy violations resulting in death would now mean fines of US$50 million (euro37 million) instead of US$500,000 (euro366,000).
Larsen urged U.S. importers to get more involved in the process. He said their businesses could suffer, especially around Christmas ''if the American public does get to the point where they are ... specifically looking for products that are not made in China.''
The legislation also provides funding to the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for overseas inspections of processed foods and toothpaste.
China's crackdown on toy makers comes two weeks after Mattel Inc. recalled almost 19 million dolls, cars and action figures because they contained lead paint or tiny magnets that could damage organs if swallowed by children.
''An examination will be conducted across the country on licensed Chinese toy producers and exporters to clear out those unqualified ones,'' China's quality administration said on its Web site.
''Export toy quality certificates will be revoked for those companies who are found to have serious problems in quality management and product safety control,'' it said.
Chen Xitong, an administration official, said the program would begin Tuesday. He did not give any other details.
The crackdown is part of a four-month program aimed at improving overall quality β€” from food to drugs to consumer products β€” as China fights to shore up its battered reputation as a safe exporter.
The recall by Mattel, the world's largest toy maker, centered around 18.2 million Batman and Polly Pocket dolls, as well as Barbie play sets, which were pulled from the shelves because of a revision of international standards in May that required safety warnings for toys with magnets or magnetic components not attached tightly.
No injuries were reported in connection with the recall.
Another 436,000 toy ''Sarge'' cars, based on a character from the movie ''Cars,'' also were recalled because they contained lead.
While Chinese officials have promised stricter supervision of the industry, they also have blamed what they say are varying global quality standards and faulty U.S. designs.
Li Changjiang, who heads the quality watchdog, said the recalled toys made up a small part of the 22 billion toys exported from China last year.
Also Tuesday, the Beijing News reported that Beijing High People's Court upheld the death sentence of Cao Wenzhuang, the former drug registration department director of the State Food and Drug Administration.
Cao was sentenced to death last month for accepting bribes and dereliction of duty. He was given a two-year reprieve, which usually means he can get life in prison if deemed to have reformed.
Cao had been secretary to Zheng Xiaoyu, the head of the agency, in the 1980s. Zheng was executed in July for taking bribes to approve substandard medicines β€” including an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths β€” and became a symbol of China's product safety crisis.
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