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China exports hurt by tainted products { June 28 2007 }

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Newest hazard from China: farmed fish
June 28, 2007, 7:05 PM EDT

The "Made in China" brand faces an uphill battle as the recall list of products from there continues to grow, experts said yesterday.

First there was the scandal involving pet food ingredients tainted with melamine and blamed for the deaths of cats and dogs. Chinese toothpaste then was banned in several countries and recently recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it contained diethylene glycol, a chemical more likely to be found in anti-freeze. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys when it discovered paint on the toys contained lead. Earlier this week, reports emerged of defective Chinese-made tires.

Yesterday, it was farm-raised fish from China -- catfish, basa, dace, as well as shrimp and eel -- contaminated with antibiotic agents that are not approved for use in farm-raised aquatic animals in the United States. Long-term exposure to lab animals has shown some of these antibiotics to carcinogenic, according to the FDA.

"It's going to take them a long time to create the administrative structures and uniform regulations, to train inspectors to get these things under control," said William Overholt, director of the Center for Asia Pacific policy at the Rand Corp. "And [overcoming] the negative branding is going to take even longer."

It's not that the Chinese government is unaware of the problems, experts said. But China faces the tough hurdles of a market growing at a rapid pace, an intensely competitive atmosphere, as well as corruption and a flawed regulatory system.

"They are trying very hard, but it takes time to get things right," said Bernard Yeung, Abraham Krasnoff Professor of Global Business at NYU Stern School of Business. "There are systematic problems: The first one is that in the current world, merchants are trying to get rich fast, and very often the product liability or environmental issues are deemed as not immediate threats."

As Chinese imports increase, federal regulators have been busy trying to make sure that the products comply with U.S. standards. In 2005 and 2006, about 50 percent of all recalls issued by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSP) were for products from China, said Scott Wolfson, an agency spokesman. So far this year, Chinese-made products account for more than 60 percent of its recalls. The agency began a new initiative earlier this year to give its inspectors full access to ships' manifests, so they can target their investigations more efficiently.

The CPSP has a formal agreement with its Chinese counterpart and has been working to educate China's government and manufacturers on U.S. safety standards.

"We want the Chinese government and manufacturers to know that safety sells," Wolfson said. "And there are economic and safety benefits to the consumers of China as well."

While the process of rectifying China's negative image may be lengthy, experts say that it isn't impossible. Japan, for example, in the 1960s was known for manufacturing cheap, easily broken toys, Overholt noted. And the United States has come a long way from the "dirty non-hygienic slaughter houses" and meat processing plants of the early 1900s, Yeung reminded.

"U.S. society experienced something similar, maybe not as dramatic," Yeung sad. "At the very beginning of developing a commercial society, there are some structural problems, some systematic problems that take time to correct."

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

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