- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The following is an excerpt from “Bowing to Beijing” (Regnery Publishing, Nov. 14, 2011):

The Chinese have peddled numerous toxic products to American consumers, including everything from children’s toys to adult vitamins to pet food. The U.S. government regularly stops more poisonous or faulty products at the border that were imported from the PRC than from any other nation. In April 2011, for example, the Food and Drug Administration issued 197 import refusals for Chinese goods, compared to 107 for India and 105 for Mexico, the two next most prolific purveyors of bad merchandise. Some of the 197 goods refused for entry into America included hazardous cardiograph machines, cosmetics, pet medicine, diet drugs, orthodontic parts, surgical bandages, frozen spinach, asparagus and candy.

These examples were compiled by simply taking the first 10 products from the list, not by searching for the most egregious cases. The inspector’s note on a batch of refused fish gave this reason for his thumb’s down: “The article appears to consist in whole or in part of a filthy, putrid or decomposed substance or be otherwise unfit for food.” This incriminating judgment speaks to the huge risks associated with a vast range of products exported from China. Unfortunately, merely stopping a poisonous product at a port of entry doesn’t necessarily prevent it from ending up in an American home because corrupt Chinese exporters often re-ship refused products, hoping they will eventually slip past U.S. officials. In no uncertain terms, nothing from China can be assumed to be safe.

In February 2011, a research team from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital tested lead levels in ceramic plates, bowls, teacups, spoons and other items that were made in the People's Republic of China (PRC) and offered for sale in shops in Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood as well as Chinese-made wares sold at stores elsewhere. Among all this kitchenware, 25.3 percent of the products from Chinatown were lead-positive and 10 percent of the Chinese goods from outside Chinatown had lead in them. “We were astounded - astounded - to find so many of them positive for lead,” said Dr. Gerald O’Malley, a toxicologist who spearheaded the study and warned that lead in Chinese products presents a serious public health threat. Lead in eating utensils can seep into food and beverages, poisoning unsuspecting innocents.

Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of China’s toxic trade is the thousands of contaminated toys that are shipped abroad to unsuspecting toddlers. In 2008, Healthytoys.org found that 21 percent of toys made in China contained detectable levels of lead. In 2009, Mr. Squiggles - a stuffed hamster toy made for kids three years old and up by Zhu Zhu Pets that was one of the most popular gifts that Christmas - was found to contain a cancer-causing metallic chemical called antimony.* In 2011, Tween Brands Inc. recalled 137,000 pieces of jewelry marketed for kids 12 years old and under for containing dangerously high levels of cadmium, a metallic chemical that can cause cancer and damage to the liver and bones, resulting in death or brain retardation in the young. The state of California limits cadmium content in jewelry to a tiny 0.03 percent; some of the recalled Tween Brands products had cadmium levels of 69 percent.

Illustration: Bowing to Beijing
Illustration: Bowing to Beijing more >

Chinese-made jewelry pulled off the shelves by the Consumer Products Safety Commission in 2010 included items that had cadmium levels of over 90 percent. “On the CDC’s [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] priority list of 275 most hazardous substances in the environment, cadmium ranks No. 7,” according to the Associated Press. In the past few years, toxic Chinese products sold to American kids have included dolls, toy trucks, Elmo, Big Bird, Dora the Explorer, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, the Princess and the Frog, and Best Friends bracelets, to name just a few. Many of these were distributed by Mattel, Fisher-Price and other famous toy brands. More than 80 percent of all toys are made in China. Many are potential killers.

Chinese toys are dangerous because they often contain lead, cadmium and other toxins that are harmful for little kids who put things in their mouths they’re not supposed to. But people of all ages are equally at risk when putting Chinese goods in their mouths that are intended to be there: food. A 2011 lawsuit against the Whole Foods grocery chain alleges that frozen vegetables sold at its stores are made by prisoners in China and irrigated by a polluted river.

That kind of allegation against exported Chinese food is nothing new; there are thousands of cases of rotten and contaminated Chinese produce being sold in America. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only inspects 1 percent of imports, which means a lot of bad stuff ends up on our plates. In 2011, there were cases in America of Chinese berries laced with salmonella and rotted fish coated with pesticides. In one four-month period, “The FDA rejected 298 shipments from China that included ‘filthy’ fruits, cancer-causing shrimp and ‘poisonous’ swordfish,” according to Consumer Reports. In many cases, to hide dodgy items such as rotten meat, Chinese exporters label the containers as something entirely different, such as dried flowers. Other common but dangerous food items exported here from the PRC include frozen catfish pumped with illegal antibiotics, pesticide-packed mushrooms, apples with carcinogenic preservatives, and bacteria-plagued sardines and scallops.

Next time you set the table for dinner, you could be endangering the health of your family with contaminated food from China. In fact, it might not even be safe to sit at the table at all. Glass-topped patio sets sold by Martha Stewart Living have exploded into thousands of shards for no apparent reason; Martha Stewart refused to give refunds or exchanges, instead conveniently blaming a Chinese supplier that had since gone out of business.

In June 2011, Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, released a shocking expose of imported Chinese food products. “China’s food exports to the U.S. have tripled over the past decade to nearly 4 billion pounds of food in 2010, worth nearly $5 billion. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration prevented over 9,000 unsafe products from entering the country between 2006 and 2010,” according to the report. This is important because many staples of the American diet now come mostly from the PRC, including two-thirds of our apple juice (400 million gallons a year), over 75 percent of our tilapia (288 million pounds in 2010), 50 percent of cod, 20 percent of spinach, 90 percent of vitamin C supplements, and more than 88 million pounds of candy.

It’s not just our human loved ones that are at risk from toxic Chinese products; our little furry friends aren’t safe either. In 2007, 154 brands of pet food with Chinese ingredients were recalled after thousands of cat and dog deaths and illnesses were reported in connection with poisoning from melamine, a chemical used in fertilizer, pools and fire retardants. The same year, the U.S. government held back 20 million American chickens from going to market because PRC-sourced feed contained melamine.

Americans are putting our nation in hock to a communist power for loans so we can buy more stuff at a lower price. In return, we are getting tainted produce, exploding patio tables and killer stuffed animals. Lead toys threaten our kids and poisonous pet food kills our animals. Moreover, there has been no discernible improvement in the safety of Chinese imports in the past decade, showing that Beijing has no interest in cleaning up its toxic trade. In fact, the opposite is the case; more contaminated products are making it into our stores as we buy more Chinese merchandise every year.

Health and safety standards should not be so hard to guarantee, especially in China. Supposedly, the authoritarian government has ironfisted control of the country, which means it should be able to put a lid on the regulatory violations behind the toxic trade. Of course, in reality the communists don’t want to clean up many of their exports because doing so could hurt the bottom line. They will cut any corner - or any throat - to get ahead, and American consumers continue to feed the beast.

Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times and a former Hong Kong-based editor and writer for The Wall Street Journal. William C. Triplett II is former chief Republican counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and bestselling co-author of “Year of the Rat” (Regnery, 1998).

* Correction: It was later shown that the testing methods used by consumer-advocacy group GoodGuide did not meet federal standards, and Mr. Squiggles was exonerated.