MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY.
The Chinese government declared today that the safety of its products is, quote, "guaranteed." Well, that's might be a tough sell, particularly on a day, the same day, when we hear that nearly a million tubes of tainted toothpaste reached Americans, far more than previously thought. Amy Scott joins us now from MARKETPLACE.
And Amy, there is tainted pet food, Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends made with lead paint, and then those tires that had problems and the tainted toothpaste. My goodness, the list goes on and on. Tell us the latest with the toothpaste.
AMY SCOTT: Yeah. It's hard to keep track. Last month, we learned that some Chinese-made toothpastes had entered the States containing diethylene glycol. It's a cheap substitute for glycerin, only it's poisonous. And it's an ingredient often found in anti-freeze.
Now, at first, the FDA said distribution was probably limited to bargain stores. But today the New York Times is reporting that as many as 900,000 tubes ended up in places like hospitals, prisons and juvenile detention centers. And of course, all this follows news this week that China has closed some 180 food plants after finding all kinds of violations, cases of hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, industrial waxes and dyes being used deliberately in the production of candy and seafood.
BRAND: Well, why would that be deliberate? Why would you put a potential poison, something like formaldehyde - wow - in a product people are going to eat?
SCOTT: Well, a lot of it seems to be about cutting corners to increase profits. Just yesterday, Chinese police reportedly raided a village where pigs were being force-fed wastewater to boost their weight before slaughter. But experts also say there just isn't enough oversight. Jennifer Turner directs the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think-tank in Washington. She says this is one side effect of China's phenomenal economic expansion.
Dr. JENNIFER TURNER (Director, China Environment Forum): The economic reforms in China have been so successful because the central government 20-some years ago decentralized power to local governments. So local governments have been given the power to develop their economies, but they haven't had the enforcements in the environmental and also food safety spheres at the local level that's needed.
SCOTT: Now, Turner says the Chinese government is taking this seriously now. But she says it's also going to take a lot more vigilance by the FDA here in the States to be monitoring what's coming in.
BRAND: So the FDA is telling consumers to get rid of any Chinese-made toothpaste. Does that mean people are just going to go through their cupboards and drawers and toss out anything made from China?
SCOTT: Well, it's not hard to imagine that that could be the next step. And I think the government is really worried about the impact on trade, which is why you're seeing them talk about this directly for the first time in months. And you can expect to see some heavy marketing, I think.
BRAND: All right. Thank you, Amy. That's Amy Scott of Public Radio's daily business show, MARKETPLACE. It's produced by American Public Media.
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