China official sees tide turning in product safety

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BEIJING, Oct 6 (Reuters) China's crackdown on unsafe goods and food was showing results and international opinion over the problem was shifting in the nation's favour, a senior official said, while noting that enforcement remained ''uneven''.

Vice Premier Wu Yi, who is leading China's effort to stamp out tainted, toxic and dangerous food and exports after a damaging torrent of scares, said a four-month campaign to close problem producers and strengthen regulation was working but still had far to go.

''Overall, although the special clean-up operation has only been under way for just over a month, the initial results are already evident,'' Wu said in a speech late last month that was published only Saturday in the International Business Daily.

''At present domestic and international opinion has begun to develop in a direction favourable to us''.

Wu's remarks appeared even as the massive trade power continued to be dogged by product recalls in the United States, where lawmakers have been urging tougher scrutiny of China-origin products.

The Boy Scouts of America said yesterday it was recalling more than a million badges worn by young Cub Scouts because of potentially dangerous lead in paint.

More than half a million more Chinese-made toys ranging from key chains to Baby Einstein colour blocks were being recalled because of excessive lead, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission said on Thursday.

These latest recalls follow a summer in which millions of Chinese-made toys from Mattel Inc and others were pulled from shelves worldwide due to lead paint and potentially dangerous design flaws. Lead can be toxic in large doses.

Late last month, Thomas Debrowski, executive vice president of worldwide operations for Mattel Inc, apologised about the recalls before a Chinese official.

The vast majority of recalled toys suffered from a design defect that was Mattel's own fault, Debrowski said.

China's state-run media seized on his remarks to make their government's case that the country has been the victim of unfair accusations echoed throughout the international media.

But Wu, who has won a reputation as a tough-talking crisis manager, also said the government's campaign to improve product safety for its own citizens was far from finished.

''Now the main problem is that the progress of the clean-up operation has been uneven and progress in some tasks has not been marked,'' she told officials.

''I think the basic reason why work has been uneven and slow is that leaders of some areas and departments have not been thorough''.

In late August, Wu launched a four-month ''war'' on dangerous products and foods. In her latest speech, she said the targets set for cleaning up restaurants, pesticide use, food additives and the country's vital exports must be met.

She said a special focus would be safety controls on small-sized retail goods that can easily harm consumers and cause alarm.

Reuters SZ GC1006

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