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China restricts two toy makers

The firms, implicated in a recall over lead paint use, face an export ban.

August 10, 2007|Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — China announced Thursday that it had banned two toy manufacturers from the export market after their products were found to contain lead paint. The action was the latest in a series of damage-control measures aimed at quieting an international uproar over tainted Chinese products.

China has unveiled a raft of measures in recent weeks aimed at cracking down on shoddy or dangerous merchandise and tainted food, even as it has insisted that Chinese products in general are reliable and safe, and that concern about unsafe goods is vastly overblown.

The export ban announced Thursday applies to companies that sold toys to Mattel Inc., which marketed them under the Fisher-Price label, and to RC2 Corp., which sold the Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway toys.

The Fisher-Price products included plastic Big Bird and Elmo characters from "Sesame Street." News that they were being recalled because they contained potentially toxic levels of lead paint caused an uproar in the United States and elsewhere.

In its announcement, China's General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said the restrictions on Lee Der Industrial Co. and Hansheng Wood Products were temporary.

"They have been asked to evaluate and change their business practices," the administration said in a notice on its website.

The agency said police were investigating the companies' use of "fake plastic pigment."

Officials at Lee Der and Hansheng, both located in the southern province of Guangdong, said they had not heard about the export ban and refused to comment further.

It was unclear whether the companies could continue to sell goods on the domestic market. Wang Youkai, a professor of public administration at the China National School of Administration, said he would not assume that they would, although he added that "we have a stricter standard for exporting products."

Wang echoed the Chinese government's view of the entire tainted-products scandal, saying he thought it "has something to do with a trade dispute" and was being overblown.

"If we are all tolerant, some problems probably could be tackled without rousing so much attention," he said in an interview.

Still, the government has been rattled by reaction to the discoveries of tainted goods, which have included a toxic substance added to pet food, toothpaste laced with a harmful chemical and contaminated seafood. Last month, it executed the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, for accepting gifts and bribes from drug companies.

Among other measures, China also said it would cut the number of small, poorly regulated food producers in half, and announced Wednesday that it was spending $1.1 billion to build new testing labs and other facilities needed to upgrade its food and drug safety network.

The government placed part of the blame for the lead paint recall on Mattel and RC2, suggesting that they should have exercised more oversight.

"To prevent loopholes in quality control, overseas brand owners should improve their product design and supervision over product quality," the watchdog agency said.

El Segundo-based Mattel recalled 967,000 Fisher-Price toys made by Lee Der last week, although about two-thirds of them were caught before they reached store shelves. In June, Oak Brook, Ill.-based RC2 recalled 1.5 million wooden Thomas the Tank Engine toys made by Hansheng.

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mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com

The Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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