China Says it Has Found Problems with U.S. Soybean Exports

BEIJING (AP) - China said Wednesday it had found pesticides, poisonous weeds, and dirt in shipments of imported U.S. soybeans, and a toy industry representative said U.S. manufacturer Mattel Inc. was partly to blame for lead tainting that caused massive toy recalls.

China has gone on the defensive 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. The government has responded by defending its safety standards and highlighting similar problems in other countries.

China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said it has found "numerous quality problems" with soybeans imported from the United States. The quality watchdog said it had found pesticides, poisonous weeds, and dirt in the U.S. exports.

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

Because a growing number of countries have rejected or recalled its exports, China has been forced to launch a campaign to both reassure its consumers at home and abroad.

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 around the world. 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 both 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 massive toy export manufacturing industry.

The region's exporters stand to lose billions of dollars from canceled orders if consumer confidence continues to decline. Popular 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."

Robert Eckert, Mattel's chairman and CEO, last week defended the measures the company has taken to ensure the safety of its toys, saying he was "disappointed in what has occurred and what has transpired."

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 with any of the products and the broad scope was to prevent potential problems.

Both cases hint at the long and murky supply chain making it difficult to trace the exact origin of components, chemicals and food additives produced by Chinese manufacturers.

In the Fisher-Price recall - which included Big Bird and Elmo toys with excessive amounts of lead - Chinese media have reported the factory used "fake paint" sold by the maker's best friend.

Cheung Shu-hung, who co-owned Lee Der Industrial Co., committed suicide after the recall.

Police are investigating Lee Der and Hansheng Wood Products Factory, which made wooden railroad toys and set parts that were recalled by New York-based RC2 Corp. in June, for using "fake plastic pigment." Such pigments are a type of industrial latex used to make surfaces smoother and shinier.

In another instance, Early Light, a Hong Kong-registered company that makes its toys on the mainland, subcontracted the painting of toy cars to another company, violating Mattel's rules by using paint from an outside source. Some 436,000 "Sarge" cars based on the character from the movie "Cars" were part of the recalls.