Mattel recalls Chinese Barbie toys in lead scare

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The Independent Online

Today's recall of more than 2,500 toys sold by Mattel is the latest in a series of safety scares involving Chinese products.

Last month toy maker Fisher Price, which is owned by Mattel, had to recall almost one and a half million Chinese-made toys worldwide over fears that the paint contained too much lead.

A total of 94,000 Fisher-Price toys were recalled from the UK and Ireland.

An internal probe found the Chinese manufacturer had used a non-approved paint pigment, violating its safety standards, the company said.

A total of 83 affected products, including Sesame Street's Elmo and Big Bird, and Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer were recalled during the crisis.

On August 14 Mattel recalled nearly two million toys off British shelves, including 1.9 million Polly Pocket, Batman, Barbie and other magnetic toys sold in the UK and Ireland because the magnets may come loose.

At the same time 49,000 Chinese-made toy cars which may contain excessive levels of lead paint were pulled.

Two weeks ago famous London toy shop Hamleys was forced to withdraw children's jewellery imported from China containing potentially fatal levels of lead.

In July, China's State Food and Drug Administration suspended sales of methotrexate, an injectable drug for leukaemia and rheumatoid arthritis, after reports of adverse effects in children with leukaemia.

This came only a month after another toy maker, RC2, recalled 1.5 million Chinese-made toy trains after they were found to be coated in paint containing lead.

In June, a Florida company issued a nationwide recall of toothpaste it imported from China and distributed to wholesalers. This was sparked by fears the product contained a poisonous chemical.

China's Lenovo Group Ltd - the world's number three computer maker - has also been obliged to recall products. It recalled 205,000 battery backs in March.

The country has since pledged to introduce tougher quality controls on products and sought to stem international alarm by insisting that 99% of its exports are safe.

In a bid to restore confidence in its manufacturing industry, Chinese toy inspectors gave foreign journalists a tour of some of its toy factories.

The toy testers in Guangzhou said the quality checks were a routine part of their efforts to make sure products were safe for worldwide children.

The one-day tour in southern Guangdong province, China's biggest toy-making region accounting for nearly 70% of China's toy exports last year - came just weeks after Mattel removed nearly 19 million Chinese-made items from shops.

The products included dolls, cars and action figures that were contaminated with lead paint or contained small, powerful magnets that could damage a child's organs if swallowed.

China has acknowledged that part of the blame should be shouldered by Chinese manufacturers that cut corners and used sub-standard materials.

But officials have also accused the US of exaggerating the problem and unfairly sullying the reputation of the entire business.

"China's toy-making industry is actually very good. It is not messed up like the Americans say it is," said Zhong Dechang, a top inspector in Guangdong.

The media tour included two massive factories, a small plant and a government inspection centre.

At the centre - part of a network of 60 labs in Guangdong - workers in white lab coats and surgical masks scraped the paint off plastic pieces from boxes labelled "Barbie hot tub party bus", a Mattel toy.

The paint flecks were collected on white sheets of paper before being sent to an in-house laboratory for chemical analysis.

"Some factories ask us to do these tests for them. With others, we force them to let us test their products," said inspector Zhong Dechang.

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