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China says U.S. soybean exports tainted

Thursday, August 23, 2007

China has bought billions of dollars' worth of the crop since the market year began.

BEIJING -- China, on the defensive over the safety of its products, lashed out Wednesday at the United States by claiming its soybean exports contained pesticides, poisonous weeds and dirt and blaming American manufacturer Mattel Inc. in part for lead tainting that prompted the recall of millions of toys.

China is facing a global backlash following discoveries of high levels of chemicals and toxins in a range of Chinese exports from toothpaste and seafood to pet food ingredients and toys. Beijing has tried to defend its safety record and reassure consumers by highlighting similar problems in other countries.

"Numerous quality problems" have been found with American soybeans, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a notice posted Wednesday on its Web site.

"We've already made exchanges with the United States, demanded an investigation into the cause, and asked that effective measures be taken to improve the situation to avoid similar incidents from happening again," the Chinese watchdog agency said.

One batch of beans in February was found to contain red beans and pesticides that constituted a "great potential hazard to the food safety of Chinese consumers," it said.

Soybeans, which are mainly crushed for oil and used as animal feed, are the biggest single U.S. farm export to China, according to the American Soybean Association. China has bought billions of dollars' worth since the current market year began in September.

No official complaints

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it had not received any official complaints from China about contaminated soybeans.

"If any of our trading partners has a concern, the normal process with USDA requires that an official notification be made, and none has been raised here," said Matt Herrick, a spokesman for the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.

He added that the problems over the batch of red beans had been resolved in February.

The accusations against the United States come as a growing number of countries are rejecting or recalling Chinese exports.

In the latest development, a distributor announced a recall in Australia and New Zealand of Chinese-made blankets found to contain high levels of formaldehyde, a potentially cancer-causing chemical preservative that gives a permanent press effect to clothes.

Earlier this month, El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel recalled 19 million Chinese-made items including dolls, cars and action figures. Some were contaminated with lead paint. Others had small magnets that children might swallow.

Two weeks before that announcement, 967,000 Chinese-made plastic preschool toys from Mattel's Fisher-Price unit were recalled because of possible lead-paint hazards.

In an interview published Wednesday, Li Zhuoming, executive vice chairman of the Guangdong Provincial Toy Industry Association, said both Chinese manufacturers and American toy giant Mattel are responsible for the recalls.

Blame "cannot be pushed to either side," said Li, whose government-backed association is in the southern province of Guangdong, the center of China's vast toy export manufacturing industry.

The region's exporters stand to lose billions of dollars from canceled orders if consumer confidence continues to decline. Sesame Street, Barbie and Polly Pocket products made in the province were among those recalled.

"The producers are responsible because they do not have tight controls over purchasing and production," Li was quoted as saying in the state-run Guangzhou Daily newspaper. "But the buyer Mattel cannot evade responsibility."

Mattel said Wednesday it was trying to improve its product safeguards.

"Safety of children is of the utmost importance to Mattel. We have been working around the clock to improve our system and have already instituted changes in our required procedures," the company said in a statement. "This includes the launch of an improved three point check system, part of which is testing of every production run of finished toys to ensure compliance."

But Li said Mattel neglected to "do its job well in quality inspections." He did not give any details or say how the producers did not follow standards.

Li said profit margins in China's toy industry are low and "it's hard to make money" because of the cost of labor and materials. He warned foreign companies run the risk of getting shoddy products if they demand too low a price from Chinese manufacturers.

"If you give a high price for purchasing, the factories will use high quality raw materials to produce. But if the price is low, they can only use inferior raw materials," said Li.

U.S. safety officials have said no injuries had been reported from any of the products and the broad scope of the recalls was intended to prevent potential problems.


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