The safety of products made in China is under scrutiny because of the increase in problems with quality control. Over the last 2 to 3 years, there have been findings of excessive antibiotics and pesticide residue in foods, carcinogens in household
goods, mislabeled drug ingredients and, most recently, lead painted toys. The purpose of this research is to examine how and why products make their way to consumers with defects and what needs to be done to prevent these products from making it to the United States.
“Made in China” is seen on a variety of American products, especially products in industry giants like Wal-Mart and smaller mom and pop discount stores. Most of these made in China products are sold at half the price of a regular retail of grocery store. For last several years, China has been capitalizing on the market for cheap goods around the world; these goods are made at a fraction of the cost of name brand manufactures. According to World Trade Organization statistics, China export revenue increased to $246 billion in 2005, eight times the revenue reported in 1980 (Bezlova, 2007).
China has even been under fire for making and selling counterfeit products for less, thereby stealing market share from established manufactures. For example, last year China was the source of 81% of counterfeit good seized by customs officials at U.S. ports of entry (Lipton & Barboza, 2007). Most recently, Colgate found out that manufacturers in China were making and selling toothpaste under its brand name. The imitation Colgate toothpaste is tainted with a chemical called diethylene glycol which is used in anti-freeze. Counterfeits, such as the imitation Colgate toothpaste, sometimes slip through the cracks and end up in the hands of consumers because no tests were performed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), or Chinese officials. Based on a study by consumer advocacy groups, only about 1 percent of the goods reaching American ports or borders are being tested (Shedden, 2007). The quality and authenticity are being overlooked by retailers because of the low costs and high profit margin of the goods.
More reports are showing the danger and a lapse in quality control of products imported from China. This year alone (a) mislabeled drugs killed and injured people in Haiti, (b) Japan banned Chinese poultry, tea and frozen spinach because of excessive pesticide residue, (c) Russia banned fish contaminated with excessive amounts of antibiotics, (d) U.S. recalls fake eyeball toy filled with kerosene and about 24 other kind of toys with lead based paints; and over 100 brands of cat and dog food tainted with melamine, a chemical used in plastic products, and (e) in Panama, 51 people died because of cough syrup with diethylene glycol. The problematic goods have also hit China, last year Hong Kong blocked imports of turbot fish that had traces of malachite green, a cancer-causing chemical used to treat fungal infections; Taiwan banned imports of hairy crabs with traces of carcinogens. Defective products home and abroad have put China in the lead with 60 percent more recalls than any other country (Lipton & Barboza, 2007). According to a WorldNet Daily exclusive report (2007), 257 products from China were refused in April, in comparison to 140 from Mexico and 23 from Canada. Canada and Mexico export far more food products to the U.S. than China; yet China had more refusals.
In the United States, consumers are very concerned about buying products marked “made in China”. Parents are especially concerned because the recent recalls on a variety of toys for young children with lead based paint. No fault lawyers are using the opportunity to make big bucks suing the American companies involved with tainted goods on the shelves and hands of consumers. In fact, there is a new slogan, “Made in China, Sued in the USA”. The main question for many consumers is why did this happen? The CPSC claims that over the last two years, budget cuts of about 10 % forced them to cut back on staffing, leaving fewer regulators to monitor the safety of the flood of imports The CPSC now has only about 100 field investigator and compliance personnel nationwide which is not nearly enough to conduct inspections at the hundreds of ports, warehouses and stores around the country (Lipton & Barboza, 2007). In total, there is only a total of about of 400 people working at the safety commission, less than half the size of the agency’s 1980 staff (Shedden, 2007).This is not nearly enough inspectors needed to conduct proper tests at U.S. ports around the country. According to Janell Mayo Duncan, the senior counsel for the Consumers Union, “they don’t have the staff that they need to try to get ahead of this problem…They need more money and resources to do more checks” (Lipton & Barboza, 2007). David Acheson, the FDA’s assistant commissioner for food safety, said:
The bottom line message is to focus the testing on areas where we have identified problems. We cannot even begin to test on everything. There are certain things we can predict are going to be a problem because we’ve seen it before, other countries have the problem… but sometimes things come out of nowhere, completely unexpected. The melamine was an example of that. I would always like us to react faster. We react as quickly as we can on the information we have. (Smith-Spark, 2007)
This appears to be another excuse for officials who are not doing their job to protect American consumers from tainted foods and drugs.
Democratic senators, Charles Schumer, Bill Nelson and Dick Durbin, seem to agree that the shortage of inspectors should not be a reason the defective reaching the U.S. market. They concur that the American government is not doing its job, and that rigorous inspections at the U.S. border should be implemented to make up for the weaknesses in foreign regulations. In accordance Senator Durbin, along with others, has made proposals to increase the number of inspectors and the size of fines and to limit the period manufacturers have to reply to findings of defects or hazards.
Out of fear of costly litigation, tougher regulations and fines American, retailers are taking matters in their own hands instead of waiting for the government to fix the problem. For example, Wal-Mart decided to deal with the problem by cutting back on spring orders from China. Other retailers has followed suit and cut back on orders, claiming that they do not want to be made into scapegoats and have the burden of doing the government’s job (Shedden, 2007). Mattel claims it is dealing with the problem and that it is doing more than anyone else to curtail the problems with unsafe toys made in China (Shedden, 2007). Mattel is one of many retailers who have quality control methods in place for its manufacturing plants base in China; Mattel developed their standards after complaints and toy recalls in 1990. But Mattel still faces quality control problems because it has no control over independent contractors who do business with its manufacturers. These independent contractors are a major a source of the problems with tainted goods in China; many do not follow regulations. Overall, the retailers are blaming the government for not doing its job and officials are telling retailers to take responsibility. This does not spell good news for consumers.
In light of the increasing concern of consumers, the U.S. government is trying to remedy the situation as soon as possible by adding new measures. Some officials believe a good place to start is to address trade issues and corporate decisions on where and how products are manufactured (Shedden, 2007). The FDA has increased testing on imports around the country. There is also an increased of testing on toothpaste and other dental products in light of the imitation Colgate situation. Currently there is a nationwide hold on the import of five types of farmed fish and seafood that were said to be filthy with pesticides and tainted with salmonella.
China, like the U.S. is trying to remedy the situation but at the same time some officials are lashing out at the U.S. On July 24, 2007 former head of State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), Zheng Xiaoyu was executed after being convicted for accepting bribes in return for government approval of unobserved medicines. The execution was a demonstration of China’s zero tolerance toward fraud, bribery and consumer abuse (Newman, 2007). In addition, government officials are making efforts to improve supervision of safety standards. Some progress was made when officials banned exports of 14 companies that produced foods that contained harmful levels of chemical and bacteria headed for Japan, Canada, European Union and the United States. Government officials also closed 180 food manufacturers after finding 23,000 safety violations involving dyes, chemicals and other illegal ingredients (Dabilis, 2007). China claimed that part of the problems is when some of the companies re-open under different names and locations making hard to keep track of violators.
More recently, China has made more progress by creating a system that holds producers more accountable for selling unsafe products. China also vows to tighten controls on chemicals used by seafood and meat producers. Besides tightening controls, the government has broken up criminal rings that operate factories that produce from pirated goods such as the tainted Colgate toothpaste. China is even reaching out to international public relations to help remedy the country’s image.
Many western countries do not trust that China will do what it promises, because promises were made before but were never fulfilled. Some governmental officials are adding to the doubt by fighting back with negative attitudes towards the U.S. and in some instances in its own country. For example, government officials arrested a journalist for broadcasting a story about food vendors who were making steamed buns by using softened cardboard as filler
(Barboza, 2007). In efforts to cover what was going on, the officials claimed the journalist was detained for creating a hoax. A statement released by Li Yuanping, director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine stated, “There is no such thing as zero risks in term of food safety, it is impossible for any country to make 100 percent of their foodstuff safe… China-made products should not be labeled as substandard just because of a few bad producers” (Chang, 2007).
Another example is China’s recent rejection of frozen poultry from Tyson Foods Inc., the world’s largest meat processor (Chang, 2007); China claims the meat was contaminated with salmonella. Other products rejected by China include frozen chicken feet from Sanderson Farms, Inc. for an anti-parasite drug, and frozen pork ribs from Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. for a leanness-enhancing feed additive. Chinese officials have even blamed the U.S. for some of China’s recent problems, claiming the contamination of goods occurred after being shipped to the United States.
As an offshoot of the safety concerns of goods made in China, there is and will be further decline of goods purchased from China unless manufacturers start producing better quality goods. Until then, retailers will raise prices to remedy the higher cost of purchasing from other countries. The relationship between the U.S. and China may continue to get worse as both countries play tit-for-tat with the goods been imported. Revenue in China’s imports might decrease and the U.S. will be blamed for causing the decrease by dramatizing the defects of the imported goods.
The issue of the safety of products made in China that the U.S. is trying to do what it can to remedy the situation, but the groundwork has to take place in China, especially with the independent contractors. Based on the recent rejection of U.S. imports, it seems as though China is not trying to resolve the problems. The government in China needs to stop being on the offensive and recognize the bottom line that people’s lives are at risk and it needs to get the situation under control as soon as possible.
Future possibilities for resolving the problem are training Chinese officials to properly inspect products based on the World Trade Organization standards, which means enforcing tougher sanctions on producers for breaking the regulations and conducting more inspections. The U.S. needs to enforce tougher standards for U.S. retailers who accept substandard goods from China without conducting a proper inspection. It is impossible for the government to catch all the flaws or inspect 100 percent of the goods that come to the U.S. Regardless of the amount of inspectors assigned, so retailers should be mandated to conduct inspection. To ensure that retailers conduct proper inspections the government should provide training and penalize retailers who do not comply. In general, retailers should be more involved in the root of the manufacturing of all goods they purchase from China and other foreign countries. An example for retailers to follow is the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory (AFSL), a task force developed by U.S. fireworks importers to monitor production from the assembly line in China. On the same token, foreign manufacturers, especially China, need to learn how to curb their manufacturers and put an end to the frequency of the dangerous goods on the market.
This whole ideal has not really affected China’s bottom line because the U.S. cannot honestly survive without buying products from China. Goods cost so much less when it is made in China than in the U.S. In the U.S., wages alone cut into the profit margin, and then there is the material, which is often imported from China. The major problem China faces is the damper in its reputation; a reputation that not a hundred percent to start with. Regardless of reputation, China will continue to be the world’s most cost effective manufacturer and generate large profits.
Barboza, D. (2007, July 27). China steps up defense of its products’ safety. International Herald
Tribune. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/07/27/business/safety.php
Barboza, D. & Lipton, E. (2007, June 19). As More Toys Are Recalled, Trail Ends in
China. The New York Times. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/19/business/worldbusiness/19toys.html?ex=1197864000&en=f298d5fad8155b1a&ei=5087&excamp=GGBUtoyrecall
Bezlova, A. (2007, August 2). China’s about-face on product safety. Asia Times Online.
Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/IH03CB01.html
Chang, A. (2007, July 14). China Fights Back, Goes After U.S. Meat. Associated Press.
Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=3381526
Dabilis, A. (2007, July 14). If it’s “Made in China” you know its “junk”. The European
Weekly. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://www.neurope.eu/view_news.php?id=76014
Is China trying to poison Americans and their pets? U.S.
markets flooded with foods unfit for humans, tainted with carcinogens, pesticides, bacteria, drugs. (2007, May 27). WorldNet Daily. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from
Lewis, T. (2007, July 2). U.S. Companies Look More Closely At Chinese Products
Schumer Calls for Creation of “Import Czar”. ConsumerAffairs.com. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2007/07/china_senate03.html#to
Newman, R. (2007, July 13). Made in China: Should You Worry? [Electronic version].
U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://www.usnews.com/usnews/biztech/articles/070713/13flowchart.htm
Shedden, M. (2007, July 29). U.S. Governments Grapples With China Imports.
The Tampa Tribune. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://www.tbo.com/news/money/MGB8X4FIN4F.html
Smith-Spark, L. (2007, July 10). Chinese product scares prompt US fears. BBC News. Retrieved
August 2, 2007, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6275758.stm