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Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2008 09:36 pm

The problem with Chinese goods

The shock is how many unsafe products are allowed into the U.S.

Untitled Document “Made in China” has become a warning label. Look out — toxics in toothpaste, arsenic in shrimp, lead in toys! Politicians are pointing their fingers at China’s lackadaisical approach to product safety. But wait a minute — where, oh where, are our own regulatory watchdogs? The big shock is not that Chinese-made toys are laden with lead but that America’s Consumer Product Safety Commission is a toothless watchdog that employs exactly one inspector to oversee the safety of all toys sold in the United States. Likewise, the Food and Drug Administration has licensed 714 Chinese plants to manufacture the key ingredients for a growing percentage of the antibiotics, painkillers, and other drugs we buy but provides practically no oversight of these plants. In 2007, for example, the FDA inspected only 13 of them.
An even bigger shock is that our consumer-protection laws are so riddled with loopholes that unsafe products can legally come into our country. Take phthalate, a chemical additive in plastics that is suspected by scientists here and in Europe of inhibiting testosterone production in infant boys. Yet Mark Shapiro, author of Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products, reports that although the European Union has banned the use of phthalates in products aimed at children under 3 years of age, our government has refused to act. Thus China has factories that manufacture two lines of toys — one without phthalates for shipment to European countries and one with phthalates for export to our children. The problem is not with the Chinese but with our own corporate chieftains who have moved their manufacturing to China specifically to get these kinds of low-cost shortcuts in production while simultaneously demanding that Washington cut back on regulations that protect us consumers. We must put our own house in order.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.
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