July 10, 2007

made in china

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to crafting a post about goods from China. We've all heard about the various recent scares regarding imported items from China, whether cough syrup, dog food, seafood, juice, toothpaste or trains. (Veggie Booty, anyone?)

I had just read a good overview of the topic from the BBC website which highlighted the complexities of government agency oversight of these imported goods (namely how tricky it is for the US government to catch everything).

But my next search is what really threw me and compelled me to put the post up right away. I searched the New York Times and saw, "China Executes Former Drug Regulator."

Wow. That's serious.

The executed official was Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration. It seems he permitted many drugs to go to market without proper applications by accepting bribes. One of these drugs caused 10 people in China to die.

However, the implications are staggering. China is clearly sending a message. The New York Times states,

"Mr. Zheng’s case appears to have served a political purpose, allowing senior leaders to show that they have begun confronting the country’s poor product safety record. Shoddy or dangerous goods, including toothpaste, pet food ingredients, toys and car tires, have damaged its reputation abroad, especially in the United States.

China is the world’s largest exporter of consumer products, and tainted goods represent a small fraction of the country’s more than $1 trillion in annual exports. But officials clearly worry that protectionist forces in the United States could use the spate of quality problems to restrict trade.

At the same time Mr. Zheng was executed, representatives of the country’s leading food and drug regulatory bodies held a joint press conference to emphasize their determination to crack down on fake and counterfeit food and medicine.

After weeks denying serious problems or blaming foreign forces for exaggerating the issue, officials have recently begun to strike a less defensive tone. One senior official acknowledged that the food and drug safety network still allowed too many unsafe goods to slip through, and said that at the moment the trend “is not promising.” "

Again, wow.

It would be easy to say I'll try to avoid goods imported from China, but it is impossible to know what ingredients have been sourced from there. I have a friend who has started contacting companies of products she uses to see if they use any ingredients form China (she's called her toothpaste company and the company that makes her flour).

And aside from avoiding dangerous ingredients, it makes you think about global communities: our differences and similarities.

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