Shoppers Offered Few Safeguards Against Chinese Imports.


(CNN) -- Chinese products have become so prevalent in the United States that they're on just about every store shelf and in everyone's reach. But the sheer volume of imports means many are out of reach of government regulators.

It's a growing problem that came to a head this summer after American consumers faced scare after scare over Chinese products, from seafood they serve friends to toys they give their children to the food they give their pets.

"China is the Wild West right now because their regulatory system lacks the strong food and drug and cosmetic standards that were developed in the last 100 years," said Sally Greenberg, senior product safety counsel with the U.S. Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine.

"Anything that does not meet our standards should not be allowed to be imported."

Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland and a former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission, says China is benefiting from a tilted trade balance with the United States that has allowed its manufacturers to run rampant. Beijing, he says, is "letting manufacturers do whatever they want without regulation to the point that it borders on atrocities."

They're basically producing poisonous products, selling them to their own people and then selling them on to us," he said.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 40 percent of all consumer products imported into the United States last year -- nearly $250 billion worth of goods -- were manufactured in China. From 1997 to 2004, the CPSC said, the share of all U.S. imports of consumer products from China increased by nearly 300 percent, a trend that is likely to continue.

The CPSC also said 60 percent of all recalled consumer products in the United States this year have come from China -- from toys and jewelry made with lead-based paint to small, defective space heaters that could result in fires.

There have been other major revelations of tainted Chinese goods. The United States in late June banned five types of fish and shrimp from China because inspectors found traces of cancer-causing chemicals and antibiotics, including malachite green. It helps fish survive in polluted, crowded fisheries.

The seafood ban came on the heels of a massive pet food recall earlier this year after thousands of cats and dogs were sickened -- the number of reported deaths varies -- by pet food containing wheat gluten made in China tainted with the chemical melamine.

Beijing stands by its products and says people should not be worried about "Made in China" goods.

"Consumers shouldn't be scared of Chinese products. They should have a reputation of being good quality, cheap and safe," said Qin Gang, a spokesman for the foreign ministry.

However, even inside China, there have been shocking revelations in recent months: Pigs fattened on force-fed wastewater, dairy cows given so many antibiotics they can't produce yogurt from their milk and lard made from sewage. A Chinese government report earlier this month found that 80 percent of food and products for domestic consumption passed inspection -- meaning that nearly 1 in 5 failed to meet minimal standards.

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