Thursday, November 08, 2007

Aqua Dots Swimming In My Eyes

Although these are children's toys, not the kinds of dots I sometimes see after reading too many inane political articles (including my own, let me hasten to add). These Aqua Dots are not good for little children:

About 4.2 million Chinese-made Aqua Dots toys were recalled for possibly containing a "date rape" drug, U.S. safety officials said on Wednesday after earlier announcing another batch of toy recalls for unacceptably high levels of lead.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said the Aqua Dots craft toys include a chemical, 1,4 butanediol, on their beads which, if swallowed, can turn toxic and cause unconsciousness, respiratory depression, or seizures.

I have written about the safety risks of imported foods before, and in particular with the problems of Chinese quality and safety controls which mostly don't exist. The Chinese manufacturers compete in price only, and if adulterating something allows a fraction of a cent savings per million items produced, it is worth it. As long as you don't get caught, naturally. But the probabilities of getting caught in the United States were for a long time period quite minor, because the fashionable politicians wanted to dismantle all that cumbersome bureaucratic machinery which used to check foodstuff for safety.

You might argue that markets will ultimately punish manufacturers who produce dangerous products, and in many cases they do. But do we really want to wait for the markets to work that way? I'm not sure, given the hundreds of people who died in Panama because of taking poisonous cough medicine made in China and given all those pet deaths here in the United States.

For better or for worse, China is now the country which makes most of our junk, and it is going to be made as cheaply as possible. Something to think about when debating global free trade and its benefits.