- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2007

BEIJING (AP) — China, on the defensive over the safety of its products, lashed out yesterday at the United States by claiming American soybean exports contained pesticides, poisonous weeds and dirt and blaming U.S. manufacturer Mattel Inc. in part for lead tainting that prompted the recall of millions of toys.

China is facing a global backlash following discoveries of high levels of chemicals and toxins in a range of Chinese exports from toothpaste and seafood to pet food ingredients and toys. Beijing has tried to defend its safety record and reassure consumers by highlighting similar problems in other countries.

“Numerous quality problems” have been found with American soybeans, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a notice posted yesterday on its Web site.

“We’ve already made exchanges with the United States, demanded an investigation into the cause, and asked that effective measures be taken to improve the situation to avoid similar incidents from happening again,” the Chinese watchdog agency said.

One batch of beans in February was found to contain red beans and pesticides that constituted a “great potential hazard to the food safety of Chinese consumers,” it said.

Soybeans, which are mainly crushed for oil and used as animal feed, are the biggest single U.S. farm export to China, according to the American Soybean Association. China has bought billions of dollars worth since the current market year began in September.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The accusations against the U.S. come as a growing number of countries are rejecting or recalling Chinese exports.

In the latest development, a distributor announced a recall in Australia and New Zealand of Chinese-made blankets found to contain high levels of formaldehyde, a potentially cancer-causing chemical preservative that gives a permanent press effect to clothes.

Also, a Beijing factory recycled used chopsticks and sold up to 100,000 pairs a day without any form of disinfection, a Chinese newspaper said yesterday.

Officials raided the factory and seized about half a million pairs of recycled disposable bamboo chopsticks and a packaging machine, the Beijing News said.

And a senior South Korean diplomat in Beijing became fatally ill after eating a tuna sandwich last month — a death that has left the envoy’s family and his government asking China for an explanation.

Four U.S. toy companies yesterday recalled more than 340,000 products made in China ranging from spinning Curious George tops to SpongeBob SquarePants journals because of lead-content levels that can be toxic for young children.

Earlier this month, El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel recalled 19 million Chinese-made items including dolls, cars and action figures. Some were contaminated with lead paint. Others had small magnets that children might swallow.

Two weeks before that announcement, 967,000 Chinese-made plastic preschool toys from Mattel’s Fisher-Price unit were recalled because of possible lead-paint hazards.

In an interview published yesterday, Li Zhuoming, executive vice chairman of the Guangdong Provincial Toy Industry Association, said both Chinese manufacturers and American toy giant Mattel are both responsible for the recalls.

Blame “cannot be pushed to either side,” said Mr. Li, whose government-backed association is in the southern province of Guangdong, the center of China’s vast toy export manufacturing industry.

The region’s exporters stand to lose billions of dollars from canceled orders if consumer confidence continues to decline. Sesame Street, Barbie and Polly Pocket products made in the province were among those recalled.

“The producers are responsible because they do not have tight controls over purchasing and production,” Mr. Li was quoted as saying in the state-run Guangzhou Daily newspaper. “But the buyer Mattel cannot evade responsibility.”

Mattel said yesterday it was trying to improve its product safeguards.

“Safety of children is of the utmost importance to Mattel. We have been working around the clock to improve our system and have already instituted changes in our required procedures,” the company said in a statement. “This includes the launch of an improved three-point check system, part of which is testing of every production run of finished toys to ensure compliance.”

But Mr. Li said Mattel neglected to “do its job well in quality inspections.” He did not give any details or say how the producers did not follow standards.

Mr. Li said profit margins in China’s toy industry are low and “it’s hard to make money” because of the cost of labor and materials. He warned foreign companies run the risk of getting shoddy products if they demand too low a price from Chinese manufacturers.

“If you give a high price for purchasing, the factories will use high quality raw materials to produce. But if the price is low, they can only use inferior raw materials,” said Mr. Li.

U.S. safety officials have said no injuries had been reported from any of the products and the broad scope of the recalls was intended to prevent potential problems.

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