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Consumer Fallout Begins Over Chinese Goods


China says it is tightening controls over its food and pharmaceutical industries following a series of embarrassing recalls involving Chinese exports. The announcement comes just as a new poll suggests Americans are becoming increasingly wary about the safety and quality of products made in China. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

The list of products that have been deemed questionable or unsafe is long.

In April, tainted pet food was blamed for several animal deaths in North America. In May, Costa Rican officials seized toothpaste containing ingredients found in antifreeze and brake fluid. And recently, the U.S. banned Chinese-grown seafood containing illegal additives.

Beijing initially tried to downplay concerns. But after finding the head of the State's Food and Drug Administration guilty of taking bribes, ordered the execution July 10th of administration chief Zheng Xiaoyu.

Yan Jiangying, a spokeswoman for the food and drug watchdog blamed corrupt officials for putting the system to shame and announced new measures to ensure public safety. "As a developing country, China's current food and drug safety situation is not very satisfactory because supervision of food and drug safety started late. Its foundation is weak so the supervision of food and drug safety is not easy."

With annual exports to the U.S. valued at nearly $300 billion , economists say China must move quickly to restore US confidence. A USAToday/Gallup poll shows nearly 80 percent of American consumers have concerns about products made in China. More than half say they will make an effort to buy more American-made products.

Vitamin maker Frank Davis wants to ensure his business doesn't suffer from the fallout. He's added a new label to his products: 100 percent China Free.

"I don't want to offend China. I'm just concerned about what's going into products, where it's coming from."

But analyst Jeffery Bader of the Brookings Institution says it may be next to impossible to eliminate Chinese-made products altogether. "You probably wouldn't have a computer, you probably wouldn't have a television. You probably would be naked because your clothes probably come from China. Your shoes probably come from China."

Sara Bongiorni found that out after convincing her family not to buy Chinese-made products. She wrote a book about it called "A Year Without Made in China". "All these little, little plastic toys, all made in China… we didn't buy any of these kinds of things."

Bongiorni's son ended up playing mostly with Lego toys made from Denmark. Her husband Kevin says he once bought paint brushes and secretly removed the labels. "She says [to me], 'Are those made in China?' I laughed because I was busted."

"There's no way that, at least in our family, that we could continue to live as we did. It really did upend our lives" Sara added.

A Chinese government study found almost 20 percent of products made for consumption in 2007 were substandard. Analysts say the execution of a top government official this month is also a stern indication that the country is determined to improve its record.