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Chinese toy recall triggers parental fears

- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — Wendy Schneider-Fisher is nervous about what toys to buy her children.

"I'm less inclined to buy anything from China," said Mrs. Schneider-Fisher, of New Albany, Ohio, who was heading into a local Toys R Us yesterday. "And I'm upset our government doesn't do more to stop it."

Her comments reflect the quandary many American parents face after the world's largest toy company, Mattel, recalled almost 1 million Chinese-made toys because they may contain lead.

As if fears over contaminated toothpaste, poisoned pet food and faulty tires weren't enough, the latest recall of Chinese-made products has anxious parents rummaging through toy chests to find tainted Big Birds and Dora the Explorer toys.

It also has stressed-out toy companies going through their inventories to determine whether their products are harmless. And it has China, again, insisting that its products are safe.

Yesterday, Mattel's Fisher-Price brand announced that it was recalling 83 types of toys — including the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters — because their paint contains excessive amounts of lead. The recall involves 967,000 plastic preschool toys made by a Chinese vendor and sold in the United States since May.

Under U.S. regulations, children's products found to have more than 0.06 percent lead are subject to a recall.

For parents, replacing the tainted toys with products they trust are safe could pose a problem: 80 percent of all toys are made in China.

"It seems like everything's from China, but if I could find a similar toy that was American-made, I would definitely buy it even if it cost more," said Allen Mayne of Columbus, Ohio, who was shopping at a local Toys R Us for his 9-year-old daughter.

"I think it would be in everyone's best interests to look for American-made products — stuff you can feel confident about, stuff that's just not the cheapest junk that you can get," he said.

With discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. waging price wars, the pressure has been on toy companies to cut costs by producing cheaper toys in China. With exceptions like Mattel, which estimates that about 50 percent of its production in China is made in company-owned plants, many toy companies turn to contract factories, a cheaper alternative.

In June, RC2 Corp. recalled 1.5 million wooden railroad toys and set parts from its Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway product line because of lead paint. Those toys also were made in China.

Industry analysts are worried that more toy recalls are to come and fear parents will be more skeptical when buying holiday toys, even avoiding Chinese products altogether.

"Everyone is concerned that this could really undermine the traditional toy business if consumers think that the toys are unsafe," said New York-based toy consultant Chris Byrne.